Cedars and Opportunity

Our View: Careful planning and reasoned compromise are the keys
to maintaining the beauty and charm inherent in the area
“One of the central concepts of the Hecker Pass Specific Plan is to maintain the rural character and scenic qualities of the area.”

There it is in black and white from the plan itself. And the looming possibility of cutting down many Deodara Cedar trees lining Highway 152 toward Hecker Pass is one of only a number of challenges the City Council will face as it deals with the devilish details in managing growth in the scenic Hecker Pass corridor area.

Housing developments approved by the City Council earlier this year will spawn traffic lights and road widenings, but those might not represent the biggest threat to the rural charm of west Gilroy.

Bonfante Gardens Theme Park corporation has put 30 acres of land ($26.5 million asking price) surrounding its entrance off Hecker Pass Highway on the market.

And what could be built on that land that straddles both sides of bucolic Highway 152?

A tire shop, an antique shop, an automobile parts and car sales (on a temporary basis), a gas station, a liquor store, a hotel, a restaurant, a theater and a truck stop (on a temporary basis) would currently be acceptable uses.

What’s clear is this: If the City Council is not diligent about the details, and residents don’t pay attention, Hecker Pass could be “rezoned” from rural scenic to urban trashy in a few Gilroy heartbeats.

On the other hand, it could become a model of cooperation and commitment to retaining the character of west Gilroy and an enhancement to an area that could well become a destination point for visitors.

With Bonfante Gardens, various wineries, golf courses, Goldsmith Seeds, Mt. Madonna Park and a planned spa all in the mix, the area represents Gilroy’s best bet for a visitor retreat.

But there will have to be leadership and cooperation to make it happen.

Michael Bonfante himself could help. If some of the stately cedars lining Hecker Pass have to go, perhaps a replacement planting scheme could involve some of the huge trees from his nursery.

After all, the city has gone to great lengths to help save the park from bankruptcy by allowing the sale of 33 acres of land to developer Shapell Industries for the addition of 100 or so homes in Eagle Ridge.

There’s another key decision in the offing as well. Caltrans says the bridge spanning Uvas Creek on Highway 152 has to be replaced. That, too, will have a significant impact and, like all the decisions in the Hecker Pass area, will require careful mitigation and planning for long-term success.

What Gilroy does not need is a protracted war over the Hecker Pass corridor.

Changes are coming. Steering those changes with vision and deliberate design guidelines so that the area is preserved and enhanced should be the common goal.

Open-space advocates in Gilroy should be realistic about coming changes, and landowners should understand that residents hold the area in special regard for its charm and beauty.

Crafting a compromise with an eye toward getting Sunset Magazine to come back in 10 years and write about “the gem of Gilroy,” a Hecker Pass transformed by good planning should be the goal.

That would truly be great for Gilroy.