County upholds eminent domain, killing plan for estate house in scenic Coyote Valley

A plan to build a two-story, 8,465 square-foot estate home in Coyote Valley, a rural expanse of farmland and open space between San Jose and Morgan Hill that has been the source of battles over development for decades, was killed Tuesday by county leaders.

Siding with environmental groups and open space advocates, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to allow the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority to acquire the vacant 4.6-acre property though eminent domain.

Edgar Andrade, a 33-year-old owner of a heating and air conditioning company in Morgan Hill, bought the property at the corner of Santa Teresa Boulevard and Richmond Avenue two years ago. He proposed building the house, along with a 3-car garage, a secondary house, and three water tanks, for his family.

But the open space authority, a government agency based in San Jose, said the development would damage the rural character of Coyote Valley, an area that was proposed as the world headquarters for Apple in the 1980s and Cisco in the 1990s, but where the taxpayers and environmental groups have spent $120 million to preserve 1,500 acres of open space and farmland in the past decade.

After Andrade refused to sell, the open space agency’s board voted 7-0 in September to take the property by eminent domain, the first such use of that tactic in its 30-year history.

Often used by highway departments and flood control agencies, eminent domain is a process where the government can force a landowner to sell their property, if they are paid fair market value for it as determined by a court.

Although it has been used occasionally by parks and open space agencies, including in the Bay Area and by the National Park Service, eminent domain is seen as a last resort because it can spark political controversy. Under the law that established the open space agency, Andrade was allowed to appeal to the board of supervisors.

But the supervisors agreed with open space authority leaders on Tuesday.

“They want to make sure they protect farmland and maintain the rural character of Coyote Valley, as well as promoting wildlife habitat in South County,” said Supervisor Sylvia Arenas. “This isn’t a decision I take lightly.”

Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority, looks out across Coyote Valley, an area of farmland and open space between San Jose and Morgan Hill, on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Arenas, whose district includes Coyote Valley, Gilroy and Morgan Hill, said she was sympathetic to Andrade because like him, she also grew up in East San Jose. She noted that she was a member of the San Jose City Council when it approved spending $46 million four years ago from Measure T, a bond approved by San Jose voters, to purchase more than 900 acres of farmland for permanent protection in Coyote Valley, guaranteeing it would remain undeveloped for agriculture, wildlife and public enjoyment on the doorstep a city of 1 million people.

“This piece of property is part of a greater effort,” Arenas said. “I’m proud at this moment to be able to protect it. There have been a lot of efforts to protect Coyote Valley.”

Andrade and his attorney, Glenn Block of Glendale, said he was being unfairly treated. They said Andrade had followed all the county zoning and building rules and should have been allowed to build.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Andrade said after the vote. “I feel betrayed.”

Asked if he planned to file a lawsuit, he said that he didn’t know.

“I still need time to digest everything,” he said.

Edgar and Suleyma Andrade of Morgan Hill, pictured here with their three children, have applied to build a two-story, 8,400- square foot house in Coyote Valley. The Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority says the home would wreck the character of the farmlands and open space preserves in the area and on Sept. 14, 2023 began a process to force the Andrades to sell the property under eminent domain. (Photo: Edgar Andrade)
Edgar and Suleyma Andrade of Morgan Hill, pictured here with their three children, have applied to build a two-story, 8,400- square foot house in Coyote Valley. (Photo: Edgar Andrade) 

A court will now decide the price that the open space authority must pay Andrade for the land. He paid $800,000 for the vacant lot two years ago. The authority has offered him $950,000, which includes $50,000 for his permitting fees and other costs. He has said he didn’t want to sell.

During the discussion Tuesday, two people defended Andrade.

“This is setting a very dangerous precedent in the county,” said Margaret Belska, a member of the Santa Clara County Planning Commission.

“If they didn’t want a single family home built on the property,” she said of the open space agency, “then they should have purchased it when it was on the market.”

Supporters of the decision said that the Andrades’ plan to build a large estate home in an area flanked by farmland that so many people had worked years to preserve would ruin the rural character of the area and impact wildlife.

“They propose to leverage the public’s $120 million investment in creating a greenbelt to get the benefit of living in the midst of open space while degrading that open space permanently for the public,” said Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the open space authority.

“Coyote Valley is vital to the health and welfare of residents of Santa Clara County for food, for flood protection and for the recharge of our underground aquifers,” said Larry Ames, a former board member of the Palo Alto environmental group Green Foothills.

“One landowner wants to make an end run,” Ames said, “and build a monster house in the middle of it all.”

Supervisor Otto Lee said he hoped that Andrade would take the money from the sale and build another home in a different location.

A drawing of the two-story, 8,465-square foot house that Edgar Andrade has proposed to build in Coyote Valley. (Image: Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority)
A drawing of the two-story, 8,465-square foot house that Edgar Andrade has proposed to build in Coyote Valley. (Image: Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority) 

Lee, along with Arenas, and supervisors Susan Ellenberg and Joe Simitian, voted to deny Andrade’s appeal. Supervisor Cindy Chavez, whose husband Mike Potter is a member of the open space authority’s board, abstained.

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