Council approves Rancho Hills final map

Bill Scheid offered the Gilroy City Council a six-page packet

Holding hand-drawn signs with phrases such as

Save Bambi


Don’t Rape Our Wildlife,

residents who oppose a 71-home development planned for a plot of
rolling foothills in northwest Gilroy made another push to change
Gilroy City Council members’ minds Monday night.
Developers threaten lawsuit over Rancho Hills development
View more photos of the 2011 Gilroy Garlic Festival at our
Holding hand-drawn signs with phrases such as “Save Bambi” and “Don’t Rape Our Wildlife,” residents who oppose a 71-home development planned for a plot of rolling foothills in northwest Gilroy made another push to change Gilroy City Council members’ minds Monday night.

In the end, the Council instead focused on the advice of the city attorney – and the likelihood of a lawsuit from the project’s developer – voting 6-1 to approve the Rancho Hills Drive development’s final map, a crucial hurdle for the project.

Councilwoman Cat Tucker was the lone vote in opposition after a dozen residents and neighbors weighed in. The agenda item was moved to 8 p.m. – two hours after the meeting’s 6 p.m. start time – to allow later-working or commuting residents to attend.

“There are common sense reasons for not approving this project,” said Jenny Robledo. “Even the kids know. They’re so obvious.”

Robledo, a mother of six, offered three reasons: It would harm the animals that live in that area, the new homes would at best be filled with aloof residents who “aren’t Gilroy people” and precious open space would disappear.

Marvin Thomas offered a different outlook, saying the new project was just another phase in Gilroy’s growth, in line with the building of Gavilan College, Christopher High School and other projects constructed on the town’s west side to isolate much-needed farmland.

“I hope that, if this doesn’t go your way … I want us to all be friends and reach out to all the residents who come here and make this a great place to live,” Thomas told those who opposed the project.

The Council had no choice but to approve the final map because it approved the project’s tentative map in 2007, City Attorney Linda Callon said. The Council delayed the vote during its July 18 meeting, the maximum allowable time it could and still follow state law, she said.

“We are now at the deadline date tonight,” Callon said Monday.

There were some slight changes to the final map compared with the tentative map, such as relocating water tanks to hide them from view, but Councilman Dion Bracco said the document still warranted Council’s approval.

“I couldn’t find anything to put my finger on to say it’s not in compliance,” Bracco said. “And as it (the project) goes on, there will be more changes to make it better.”

City Engineer Rick Smelser said minor changes to projects like the Rancho Hills development were common, and were actually done to minimize disturbance to the area.

Bracco encouraged residents, including the roughly 30 in attendance Monday night, to keep a close eye on the project, as changes could still be pursued during final reviews before construction.

The decision comes on the heels of several tense weeks that included residents calling for the project to be stopped, and its developers – Glen Loma Corporation and Arcadia Development Company – promising legal action against the city if the final map was not approved.

The Council approved the project’s tentative map in 2007 and essentially renewed it last October when it extended expired allotments through the residential development ordinance.

The Council chose 4-3 to delay its vote on the final map at its July 18 meeting, asking Callon to look into legal options against the state and directing city staff to hire an independent consultant to review the project plans.

CSG Consultants, to whom the city will pay between $3,000 and $4,000 for the quickly returned review, determined what city staff had already reported: The final map was in “substantial compliance” with the tentative map, prompting staff to recommend approval, according to a city staff report.

Bill Scheid, representing a neighborhood coalition against the development, however, offered the Council a six-page spreadsheet measuring differences between the project’s two maps. Fellow resident John Litzinger said the Subdivision Map Act – the state’s guideline that cornered the Council into approving the project – was “very vague.”

City Administrator Tom Haglund agreed, saying, “There isn’t a pinpoint description in the Subdivision Map Act that says, ‘Here is your very specific definition of substantial compliance.'”

Councilwoman Tucker said she was concerned the act allowed developers “a lot of wiggle room, it seems.”

Rod Pharis, who has lived in the Rancho Hills neighborhood for 14 years, said the project’s approval process included “ample missteps,” and requested the Council verify the development could in fact warrant the removal of native trees.

Marilyn MacDonald pleaded with the Council to reconsider approving the project because there was a history of toxic contaminates in the area’s soil, and said a new soil study needed to completed.

Though project opponents begrudgingly left City Hall Monday night without a victory, some say the process isn’t over.

Julie Hutcheson, advocate for the Committee for Green Foothills, said residents and representatives from the Glen Loma Corporation would meet to discuss the project sometime in the coming weeks. She said a community forum was also in the works, designed to gather residents’ input on how they want Gilroy to look and grow into the future.

She called possibly losing the battle over Rancho Hills “a case in lessons learned.”

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