Mansion proposal obstructs Santa Clara Valley ridgeline
The proposed hillside mansion in Santa Clara Valley is outlined with poles. Neighbors and environmentalists say the project violates Santa Clara County guidance on ridgeline protection. Photo courtesy of Green Foothills.

A proposed Morgan Hill mansion is the target of a complaint claiming its construction will obstruct ridgeline views—something the county’s decades-old General Plan says should be avoided.

“The whole idea is that ridgelines are the most aesthetically sensitive parts of the county, because everyone can see it,” said Brian Schmidt, advocacy director for environmental organization Green Foothills.

The Santa Clara County General Plan, approved in 1994, is a guiding document that states ridgeline and hillside developments create negative visual impacts from the valley floor.

While the mansion project at 2245 Liberata Drive in Morgan Hill has yet to be built, poles have been erected at the site for zoning inspection—creating a skeleton visual that prompted some neighbors’ concerns.

The worry over obstructing views of the ridgeline, or hillside, originated from a neighbor who shared photos with the county of his view from the valley floor. The neighbor—who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution from the property developers—appealed the land use permit after county staff approved it on Feb 4.

Other nearby residents said the proposed 8,647 square-foot mansion is right on the edge of the hill top, and is not only eye sore, but endangers habitats of nearby wildlife. Green Foothills also claims the project poses a threat to a rare plant species, a finding backed by the Silicon Valley chapter of the nonprofit California Native Plant Society in its letter supporting the land use permit appeal.

“Protecting the ridgeline is part of our rural culture,” said Morgan Hill resident Raymond Grzan. “This community made a decision long ago that these hillsides are going to be preserved.”

A Feb. 4 county staff report states the subject property is located in a “highly visible” to “medium visible” area. It confirmed the presence of a rare plant species—smooth lessingia—but also stated the property would not be on the ridgeline. Rather, staff noted the proposed single-family residence would be behind the ridgeline.

“I’m trying to figure out how this could not be considered a ridgeline (development),” Schmidt said. “You could see this thing from all over the place.”

Santa Clara County Department of Planning and Development Planning staff say the proposed 8,647 square-foot Morgan Hill development is not along the ridgeline, but rather behind it. Image courtesy of staff report.

County officials reviewed the neighbor’s appeal and agreed some discrepancies in the property developers’ application existed.

County Planning Principal Leza Mikhail said department officials asked the developers to resubmit updated plans resolving the discrepancies. Once plans are resubmitted, the neighbor’s appeal will be revisited and the developer’s application will go to Planning Director Jacqueline Onciano for a final decision.

“There are alternative areas on the property that have been taken into consideration,” said Mikhail. “We require alternative site analyses to occur, we have reviewed those as well. And those are in the (staff) analysis.”

The applicants for the hillside development, land development agency Hanna-Buretti and architect company D&Z Designs, have yet to resubmit an updated application. Both companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Neighbors and advocates said they continue to worry no significant changes will come from the application resubmittal, and that the county will allow the development to move forward as is.

“Once you allow developers to violate the general plan once, how do you tell another one they can’t?” Grzan said. “We just have to draw the line. We just have to say, ‘This is where we stop and give nature space.’”

Schmidt and some neighbors also said trees were removed recently to make room for the project, citing aerial photos from the county website. The county report states no trees will be removed.

Nearby resident Michelle Lieberman said the vast green land of Santa Clara Valley belongs to all its inhabitants and resources cannot be sold to the highest bidder.

“One of our area’s greatest treasures is our views of the gorgeous hillsides and open space we still have for wildlife,” she said.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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