Fight against growth may be too late

 

Residents in a northwest Gilroy neighborhood have sent roughly
three dozen letters to city officials opposing a 71-home
development they say will eliminate a rolling, wildlife-rich area.
It’s an effort that could be too late.
Residents in a northwest Gilroy neighborhood have sent roughly three dozen letters to city officials opposing a 71-home development they say will eliminate a rolling, wildlife-rich area. It’s an effort that could be too late.

The letters, addressed to Mayor Al Pinheiro, the Gilroy City Council and other officials, ask the city to prevent construction on 71 acres of foothills along Rancho Hills Drive – a region that is home to wild deer, turkeys and other animals. It boasts beautiful, tranquil pathways for recreation, residents said. The letters also claim the area was “historically considered off-limits to construction.”

But Councilman Bob Dillon said the property’s owners have every right to follow through with the project, which needs city approval of the homes’ architectural designs and a final map before beginning construction.

“Unfortunately, these people are way behind on all of this,” Dillon said about the residents. “They (property owners) have the legal right to build.”

City Clerk Shawna Freels said Wednesday that City Hall had received 33 letters from residents opposing the project.

“We’re feeling a lot of pressure. It’s time critical,” said Rancho Hills Drive resident Marilyn MacDonald, one of several residents who jump-started the movement last week.

MacDonald said several workers were seen placing stakes on a hillside, while digging holes at intervals with heavy construction equipment about a month ago.

“It was obviously preparation for construction,” she said. “We were already feeling the loss.”

MacDonald then walked door to door in her neighborhood, she said, dropping off hundreds of copies of her letter urging residents to help preserve the property.

The city approved the project’s tentative map in November 2006, according to City Administrator Tom Haglund. According to the Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office, the property is listed under First American Title Company, though the billing address is that of Arcadia Development Company.

The project’s allotments under the city’s Residential Development Ordinance expired last year, but the City Council voted to extend them because of the several years of economic downturn that followed approval of the tentative map, Councilwoman Cat Tucker said.

At that time there were no residents publicly speaking against the project, Tucker said.

“There wasn’t any uproar,” she said.

The proposed building site rests on the west side of Rancho Hills Drive, north of Longmeadow Drive. The homes, developed in tandem with the Glen Loma Corporation, would measure 6,000 to 7,000 square feet. As of Wednesday, Haglund said the city had no construction plans on file for the project.

MacDonald said she had contacted officials at the Nature Conservancy about possible ways to prevent or slow the project’s construction. She said any efforts moving forward wouldn’t come cheap.

“It might take some bucks, quite frankly, to wrestle this land away from a developer,” MacDonald said.

Tucker said she sided with MacDonald’s desire to prevent development along the foothills, but didn’t think much could be done at this point.

“If there had been a neighborhood uproar back then, a neighborhood might have had a chance to stop it,” she said.

Several Rancho Hills Drive residents said they were opposed to the development.

Matt Sanfilippo, who has lived on the street for about six months, said, “I don’t want it to happen.”

“I’d like to see it stay as is, but it’s not my choice,” he said. “It’s just nice having a little bit of nature by my house. It’s just really peaceful. I don’t know of many other places in Santa Clara County that have an area like this, in a suburb anyway.”

Sanfilippo said a major reason he chose to move to Rancho Hills Drive was because of its proximity to the nature-laden foothills. He said he was aware when he moved, however, that new development was a possibility there.

Christian Warren, who lives in a home on the street with her husband and in-laws, said residents loved seeing the area’s wildlife and frequently using the bike trails and walkways.

“It won’t be as nice once there’s a bunch of houses there,” she said.

She added, “I know nobody who lives in this neighborhood wants more housing.”

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