Council rejects new housing developments

After the council voted 5-1 Monday to reject the Country Estates development, located in the foothills of east Gilroy, it's back to the drawing board for a project that's been in the works since the 1980s.

GILROY—A united Gilroy City Council voted unanimously Monday to uphold a planning commission denial of a 23-unit, two-story housing project proposed on land next to Gilroy High School.
The action marked the first test of a new, firm stance taken by the council in June 2014 to end past abuses and hold so-called planned unit development projects to tougher design standards that benefit the community.
Citing a lack of on-site parking, poor design and minimal usable open space, Planning Division Manager Sue Martin recommended denial of the single-family, residential project on Royal Way between Filbro and Imperial drives.
With little discussion, the council agreed and denied the applicants’—including Michael McDermott and Vince Giacalone—appeal of the commission’s Feb. 5 action.
In a separate, 5-1 vote, the council also rejected a revised tentative map and zone change request for the 153-acre County Estates development in the picturesque foothills in east Gilroy, adjacent to the Gilroy Golf Course.
“There are projects we have to say ‘no’ to in order to make this a better community,” Mayor Don Gage told the Dispatch. “If you don’t have a good project, you don’t build here.”
Gage said he knows developers have been watching to see how the council would handle the 23-unit PUD. He stressed it’s vital that the council remains firm after announcing last June that planned unit developments would face tougher scrutiny from now on.
Since 2012, 91 percent of housing projects approved by the council were PUDs, according to Martin. Those developments, Gage said, can skirt the city’s minimum standards by their very nature and provide less overall benefit to the community. The council now wants greater benefits to the community as a trade-off for PUD approval—and what may have been acceptable in the past is no longer, is the message being sending to developers.
The applicant for the 23-unit project proposed fencing off an old tank house as part of the development’s only open space, but a representative for the developer conceded Monday the structure is termite-infested and falling apart.
Martin described the tank house as a ‘liability” that does not qualify as a community amenity.
Neighbors expressed concerns about graffiti around the tank house and argued that the applicant’s fencing idea could attract even more criminal activity.
“Every night there is somebody out there and every day we tend to graffiti,” said Mae Pickett, who lives next to the tank house. She suggested the developer install a community garden or a park instead.
Amanda Wilson, representing the developer, expressed surprise at the planning staff’s critique of the project design.
“Honestly, the first we heard of this was in (Martin’s) staff report,” she said.
But Martin refuted that, saying her staff went beyond what they typically do for developers, even sketching an alternate arrangement to address concerns.
Council Member Cat Tucker said after the meeting that she expects criticism from developers about the council’s veto of the project.
“We knew at some point a development would come forward and it would be hard to say ‘no,’ but we all agreed we want Gilroy to have a good mix of housing and see projects that are good for the entire community,” Tucker said Tuesday. “Concerns have to be taken into consideration.”
Country Estates goes back to drawing board
With its 5-1 vote, to reject the Country Estates proposal, Tucker dissented, the Monday action stalled again a project in the works since the early 1980s and that initially was for 95 homes.
Brent Lee told the council he resubmitted the project with 61 lots compared to the initial plan for 95, meaning a new average lot size of 2.5 acres.
“I don’t know of another development with density this low,” he said. “Like a good wine, the project took time to mature. Now, we have the best project, the best design.”
At the same time, Lee requested an exemption from the city’s public street standards to allow for private roads that would be narrower than usually allowed.
Lee’s plan did not move the council majority.
“We’re trying to clean this community up,” Gage said. “I’m not ready for this…we have so many homes being built we’re flooding the market.”
“They’re trying to maximize the dollars they pull from the dirt,” Councilman Dion Bracco said. “Returning again and again is a way for them to try to make more money.”