Battle over Coyote Valley: property rights vs. conservation

Coyote Valley, a picturesque expanse of farmland and open space nestled between San Jose and Morgan Hill, is once again the battleground for a development clash, this time on a smaller scale. 

The focus of the current dispute is a 4.6-acre lot where a family compound is proposed, pitting concerns about housing and private property rights against wildlife preservation and land conservation, The Mercury News reported. 

This valley has a history of contentious development battles, notably with tech giants Apple and Cisco in the 1980s and 1990s. The current standoff may set a precedent, as Santa Clara County contemplates using eminent domain to secure the property and preserve open space—a rare move.

Two years ago, Edgar Andrade, a 33-year-old Morgan Hill resident, purchased five acres in Coyote Valley, intending to build an 8,465-square-foot house for his family. Despite growing opposition, Andrade, who runs a successful heating and air conditioning business, insists on creating a rural haven for his children.

However, the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority argues that the proposed compound, including a massive house, garage, secondary home, water tanks, and a wide driveway, would disrupt the area’s character. The agency, backed by $120 million in public investments, aims to preserve farming, create wildlife corridors, and maintain an undeveloped valley to mitigate flood risks.

The open space agency has attempted to purchase the property for the past 19 months, offering $900,000 plus $50,000 for expenses. Andrade, who paid $800,000 for the land, refuses to sell, suggesting a willingness to build two smaller houses instead.

In a historic move, the open space agency invoked eminent domain, a practice typically associated with highway and flood control projects. The Andrades have appealed to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, which is set to decide the case soon.

Complicating matters, the county recently imposed zoning rules requiring properties over 5 acres to support farming operations. Andrade, strategically reducing his lot to 4.6 acres, evades these rules.

While eminent domain has been used for land preservation in the past, its application in local parks and open space districts remains rare. Environmental groups support the agency’s move, emphasizing the importance of preserving open space amid climate change concerns.

As the battle intensifies, the outcome will not only impact the Andrade family but may also shape the future development landscape of Coyote Valley, testing the delicate balance between private property rights and the broader goals of conservation and environmental protection.

— Ted Glanzer

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