Fired-up neighbors face an uphill fight

Hundreds of residents showed up at Christopher High Tuesday

A chorus of jaded voices rang out inside the Christopher High
School gymnasium for two hours Wednesday night, as approximately
200 residents gathered to voice their opposition to a 71-home
development planned for a northwest Gilroy neighborhood that’s
moving closer to reality. Full article
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A chorus of jaded voices rang out inside the Christopher High School gymnasium for two hours Wednesday night, as approximately 200 residents gathered to voice their opposition to a 71-home development planned for a northwest Gilroy neighborhood that’s moving closer to reality.

“Is there hope this can be stopped?” one woman shouted from near the top of the bleachers as City Administrator Tom Haglund and other officials worked their way through a PowerPoint presentation detailing the proposed development. The homes will blanket what neighbors describe as rolling, wildlife-rich foothills on Rancho Hills Drive.

“When is the next election for City Council?” boomed another to roaring applause.

One resident boisterously suggested legal action was the lone remaining option.

“Sue! That’s the only way to stop this now. We need a lawyer, right?” he said.

Beyond making noise, however, there might not be anything residents can do to stop the City Council from approving the project’s final map during its July 18 meeting, said Haglund, who called the final map’s approval “a formality.”

By state law, the Council must approve the project’s final map if no changes are made to the tentative map, which the Council approved in January 2007 to little protest, Haglund said.

“I’m not aware of a mechanism under the city zoning ordinance, or more importantly under state law, that would stop the project so long as the developer complies with his vested tentative map,” he said after the meeting.

He added, “The developer has not given us any indication they intend to file anything other than the tentative map.”

Following a final map approval, only an architectural review would be needed before construction could begin, Haglund said.

As of Wednesday, the city had received 371 letters from residents via email and in-person delivery regarding the proposed development, located along Rancho Hills Drive north of Longmeadow Drive, according to Jenny Knerr in the City Clerk’s office.

The lots, which would measure 6,000 to 7,000 square feet, rest on land slated to be developed by the Glen Loma Corporation and Arcadia Development Company, Haglund said.

The project’s allotments under the city’s Residential Development Ordinance expired last year, but a zoning ordinance allowed for the reinstatement of those allotments, which the Council approved in October, Haglund said.

Residents said grading had begun on the property, though Haglund said he had “no idea” when construction would begin.

Several calls to the Gilroy offices of John and Tim Filice of the Glen Loma Corporation have not been returned.

Residents asked aloud where money from the project would be going, and resident Tom Espersen later took the microphone and estimated off the cuff that the Filice family owned 25 percent of the land in Gilroy.

“That’s where all this is going,” he said.

Residents routinely offered groans Wednesday night in response to answers provided by city staff, which included Haglund, Community Development Director Kristi Abrams, City Planner Melissa Durkin and Public Works Director Rick Smelser.

“I can’t believe in my wildest dreams it has to be approved by July 18,” Espersen said.

City Attorney Linda Callon said she believed there was a “reasonable time frame” in which the approval date could be extended, but added she would have to research her law library before she could provide an answer.

“We want that slack time,” Espersen said. “If you want good faith toward the City of Gilroy, you’ll give us slack time.”

Espersen added the next city election would be “something to look forward to.”

Many residents said it was their understanding when they moved into their homes that the property would remain open space, allowing them an unblocked view of one of the area’s natural settings.

But the upper part of the foothills, not the base where the homes would be constructed, was the area meant to be preserved, Haglund said.

“I like to see the turkeys and I like to see the deer. This plan has effectively cut off our view,” one resident told Haglund during a question and answer session. “I know my voice is probably just blowing in the wind. It’s just so beautiful.”

He added, “I’m just saying, maybe next time.”

One woman suggested the reason residents were unable to speak out against such projects at city meetings was because the last Caltrain arrived more than 90 minutes after the City Council’s 6 p.m. start time for its regular meetings.

“It really almost sounds like you elected us and we went into La-La Land and we don’t care,” Mayor Al Pinheiro said.

Pinheiro reminded everyone about his monthly coffee sit-downs at City Hall that are open to all residents, and said his personal cell phone was listed on the City of Gilroy website. Council members Dion Bracco and Cat Tucker were also present at the meeting and talked with residents after it ended.

“We’re not just deaf ears. We do what we think is best,” Pinheiro said.

He also told residents that many of the homes they were living in wouldn’t exist without previous city approval of development in that area.

“We also go through a process. It’s up to us to say yea or nay, and this is where we are in the process.” said Pinheiro, who asked residents to divert their frustration away from city staff. “Don’t shoot the messengers. We (the Council) are the ones who made the decision.”

Mayor Al Pinheiro’s cell phone number is 483-3886. His next coffee session is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, July 23 in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.

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