A new neighborhood will eventually carpet 112 acres of pastoral property nestled south of Hecker Pass Highway, following City Council's unanimous initial approval of 186 single-family homes set to be constructed this spring, if not sooner.
Spearheaded by Arizona-based developer Meritage Homes, the multi-million dollar residential development is one of the “more significant” in Gilroy, second to the massive 1,643-home Glen-Loma Ranch project between Santa Teresa Boulevard and the Uvas Creek Corridor.
Meritage is also the first development to emerge from the Hecker Pass Specific Plan, which envisions an eventual 259 residential units in the East Cluster and was adopted by the City in 2005, according to Gilroy Planning Manager Sue Martin.
Now, after 15 years of work, “we finally have a project that's ready to take off,” praised Skip Spiering, who represents Meritage and said the development will be completed sometime in 2014.
“It is the trigger that says the economy is turning around,” noted Mayor Don Gage, referring to the amount of homes being built this year within city limits, compared to years immediately following the Great Recession.
Gage said the City plans on reviewing applications for roughly 350 new homes next year, and expects “probably 400” in next few years after that. During fiscal year 2012-13, Gilroy permitted approximately 200 new housing units, according to Gage.
Things were quite different three years ago, when only nine new homes were permitted.
During their meeting Monday night, Council also unanimously approved the architectural and site plans for the proposed Meritage development, located within the Hecker Pass Specific Plan area - with Hecker Pass Highway to the north, Eagle Ridge residential community to the south, with Uvas Creek and an agriculture zone to the east and west. But there were a few conditions added by council prior to approval, including the completion of a traffic study at the intersection of Third Street and Isabella Way, and a subsequent presentation of the study’s results to council within two months, according to Gage.
Some of the Meritage project’s major features include an eight-acre neighborhood park with detention ponds designed to store runoff, three Uvas Creek parcels and three agricultural production parcels. Approximately 45 acres will be occupied by homes with another 41 acres north of the project remaining an agricultural production zone, according to Martin.
“Within the development itself, there are a number of private open space areas in connection with the parks,” she explained. “Landscaping and public parks are a huge part of the amenities proposed in this project.”
The development will feature two different lot sizes. Slated are 117 larger lots, between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet, and 69 smaller lots roughly 3,500 square feet in size. According to Meritage, prospective buyers will be able to choose from eight different models. Spiering said it’s too early in the process to release the prices, but a search of the company’s website revealed that other Meritage homes in the Bay Area cost buyers between $317,000 and $994,000.
Spiering describes it as a “great project” that “combines the open space with the creek and vineyards with the residential.”
“The right to farm is still there for Syngenta, which grows some of the best flower seeds in the world,” he said, adding that Syngenta Flowers at 2280 Hecker Pass Highway will retain roughly 16 agriculturally zoned acres within the development.
Impacts to traffic, local shools
The Meritage Development has been met with relatively little public opposition, but one issue has surfaced - traffic. Several council members and elderly residents are concerned about impacts to pedestrian and driver safety at nearby sidewalks, crosswalks and intersections.
“In full disclosure, I am a resident of Village Green,” said Councilwoman Terri Aulman. “I am very concerned for the residents of Village Green about how we're going to deal with that intersection (at Third Street and Isabella Way). We have ambulances and fire trucks in and out of there currently on average of two times a day.”
For this reason, Council’s approval of Meritage’s tentative map and architectural site plans was conditional on completion of a traffic study at that intersection gauging potential impacts to the surrounding areas of the Meritage Development – particularly the nearby Village Green apartments specializing in independent and assisted living for seniors.
The study will be paid for by Meritage and conducted at the intersection of Third Street and Isabella Way, roughly a half-mile south of the intersection of Hecker Pass Highway and Santa Teresa Boulevard, and address (a four-way stop sign), a traffic signal analysis, a pedestrian crosswalk analysis and any other safety measures as determined by the City.
The results will likely be presented during a regular City Council meeting in November. Meritage says it will contribute up to $60,000 for any traffic mitigation measures that are warranted.
City staff say the traffic study clause “does adequately address a lot of concerns that were identified,” according to Martin.
“We're just as concerned as Council is to make sure it's a safe environment for traffic and for pedestrians,” City Engineer Rick Smelser added. “Above all, we need to do the traffic study first and determine what the best solution is for that entire area (and) what combination of traffic controls work best together.”
The possible use of roundabouts, flashing lights, lighted crosswalks, speed limits, signage and various pavement types to remind drivers they are in a “senior zone” will all be evaluated as part of the traffic study at the intersection of Third Street and Isabella Way, Smelser added.
But before the 75th home of the development can be built, the city requires that the intersection of Hecker Pass Higway and Autumn Drive see additional lanes of travel, turn lanes and traffic signals. All additional lanes and traffic features must be operational before building can continue, according to the specific plan. A secondary connection to Hecker Pass would help prevent residents and passersby from solely exiting on Santa Teresa Boulevard, added Martin.
In all, 10 residents living adjacent to the proposed development wrote City Council for the Oct. 21 meeting expressing traffic concerns. That includes Village Green tenant Nick DiJulio, who along with a “solid majority of other Village Green residents” insist on the necessary of a four-way stop sign at Third Street and Isabella Way.
“The real possibility will always exist that if there's a mistake in judgment by both drivers, the resulting accident will not be a simple fender bender,” DiJulio said. “Drivers exiting the Village Green should have the safest possible conditions to executing left turns in traffic onto Third (Street).”
Spiering reiterated that Meritage is satisfied with the conditional traffic study and plans on installing necessary traffic control measures deemed necessary by the City.
The forthcoming influx of homes means the Gilroy Unified School District expects to see an eventual spike in new students.
“The development of the Hecker Pass Specific Plan Area will increase the demand for additional school facilities (as) a significant number of new residents will have school-age children,” the plan reads.
As dictated in the plan, children from the Hecker Pass Specific Plan Area will attend GUSD’s Antonio del Buono Elementary, Ascencion Solorsano Middle School and Gilroy High School.
According to a GUSD demographer’s estimates, a district should expect one new student for every two single family homes built. Meritage Homes is now tasked with preparing the public improvement plan detailing surface improvements and installation of underground utilities, according to Gilroy Community Development Director Kristi Abrams. The final version of the map is expected to come before City Council at a yet undertermined meeting. If it is approved, Meritage can start selling parcels, begin general improvements and construction of the development.