wren avenue field santa clara lafco annexation
The City of Gilroy seeks to add this 55-acre property on Wren Avenue to its limits. Photo: Tarmo Hannula
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The Santa Clara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) partially approved Gilroy’s request to add more land to its city limits Aug. 2.

On a unanimous vote, the commission suggested Gilroy officials come back later with modifications in its plan to seek approval for the rest of the acreage.

After multiple delays this year, LAFCO made a decision on Gilroy’s request to annex 55 acres into its northern limits. Known as the Wren Investors and Hewell Urban Service Area Amendment, 50 acres of the property extends west of Wren Avenue, south of Vickery Avenue and north of Tatum Avenue. Another five-acre property nearby, northeast of the intersection of Vickery Lane and Kern Avenue, is also included in the proposal.

LAFCO Chairperson Russ Melton suggested the commission approve the annexation that includes Lions Creek and the land to the south, nestled between Wren and Kern avenues to the east and west, respectively, and Tatum Avenue to the north.

“That piece, to me, is the opposite of sprawl,” he said.

The commission agreed, approving that portion of the property that amounts to roughly a third of what Gilroy officials were hoping to annex.

The rest of the property, which is mostly vacant land across from the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s South County Annex that hasn’t been farmed in more than 20 years, will have to seek approval at a later date, according to the commission’s vote.

The commission agreed to waive the one-year time period before the city could come back to the commission for the northern end of the proposal. In addition, it suggested the city secure a conservation easement elsewhere in Gilroy or remove a piece of incorporated land from its limits, referred to as a “detachment,” before coming back to LAFCO for consideration.

As it had in previous meetings where the decision was delayed, LAFCO staff recommended the commission reject the project entirely, stating that, among other things, Gilroy officials hadn’t adequately demonstrated how they would provide services to the future development, while also noting that the city had more than five years of vacant land to meet its state-mandated housing numbers.

“The proposal area is a logical future growth area for the city,” LAFCO Executive Officer Neelima Palacherla said. “Once the city has resolved its service and infrastructure issues and reduced its inventory of existing vacant and underutilized lands, the city will be in a better position to prepare a clearer plan for services, and establish a feasible funding mechanism, and thus establish a need for expanding its urban service area.”

Cindy McCormick, the city’s project manager for the proposal, said that preliminary plans show 307 housing units on the property, which is included within the 2016 voter-approved urban growth boundary, with an estimated 1,074 residents.

Gilroy’s vacant, usable land is quickly filling up, she said, adding that housing projects in Glen Loma Ranch and Hecker Pass alone have recently submitted 184 building permits.

wren hewell property annexation
A map shows the 55 acres that are proposed to be annexed into Gilroy’s city limits.

The city, like most jurisdictions across California, is under pressure from the state to build more housing units for various income levels. The city is required to facilitate the building of at least 1,773 new residential units from now through 2031, as determined by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation process.

City officials also say LAFCO staff included the hillside behind Gilroy Gardens as a possible housing site. But that steep land is not suitable for housing, Mayor Marie Blankley told the commission, and when it notified housing developers earlier this year of the land through a state-mandated process, none responded.

Should the annexation be approved, it would be at least another five years before the shovels hit the dirt, McCormick said, stressing the need to move forward with the process now.

“We have illustrated that we can and will service this small expansion area,” she said. “The city has a team of staff with years of experience reviewing and processing much larger developments. We do not take our responsibility lightly, and will ensure that the developer and future property owners pay their fair share towards infrastructure and service needs.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, both Blankley and Gilroy City Councilmember Dion Bracco spoke in support of the annexation.

“This property should be approved for annexation today because it is hindering the very orderly and planned urban expansion LAFCO is meant to promote,” Blankley said, noting that the pocket of unincorporated land prevents the city from finishing streets and bicycle paths that dead-end in the area.

Councilmember Zach Hilton, however, urged the commission to deny the annexation, saying that the potential development would be mostly filled with single-family homes when the city is in need of more affordable units.

“Gilroy can’t grow or consider itself equitable and diversified in housing type when 75% of our land is zoned for single-family homes,” he said. “We zoned our city where our own children can’t afford to buy a million-dollar single-family home and have spaces to rent. What we’ve promised our residents and state HCD through our next eight-year housing plan is that we will focus on building out our current land in Gilroy that’s not focused on sprawl and single-family homes.”

Commissioner Sylvia Arenas, the county supervisor who represents Gilroy, said she viewed the proposal as an infill project, even though LAFCO doesn’t consider it to be.

“This project has done its part,” she said. “They’ve done enough to address some of the underlying issues that LAFCO has raised. That should be factored into our decisions.”

Alternate Commissioner Mark Turner, the mayor of Morgan Hill, said the commission should approve the annexation, noting that Gilroy hasn’t come forward with an annexation application for more than a decade.

“There is no out-of-control sprawl coming out of South County,” he said. “They’re not going wild in Gilroy. They’re not expanding their borders.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


  1. Funny, they allow Gilroy to expand( a fill in) but deny Morgan Hill expansion. And the argument that the land will fill with single family homes forgets the fact that the city can deny developers of single family homes permits. The city can require rental apartments be built on these lots.

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  2. With this annexation, what are the plans for the Ag. Farm for the FFA/High School students? Also, I hope that all these building plans include proper roads for commuters.

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