Open spaces near Stevensville and Corvallis are a little more permanent, after Ravalli County Commissioners gave final approval to one project and preliminary approval to a second on Wednesday.
In two 4-1 votes — Commissioner Ray Hawk voted against the both proposals, without comment — the commission gave final approval to the Sixty-One Bar Ranch Open Lands Bond Program application, and preliminary approval to the Auch Angus Ranch project.
The Sixty-One Bar Ranch involves 507 acres just east of Stevensville off North Burnt Fork Road. The land is owned by the Karen Smith and her late husband Richard, and is prime agricultural land.
"This area is ripe for change, and in this instance, that isn’t what the landowners wanted,” Gavin Ricklefs, executive director of the Bitter Root Land Trust, said after the meeting. “It is a key component to what landowners are doing in the Burnt Fork for habitat, agriculture and scenic values. This is one of those special historic places in the valley and will stay that way thanks to all those landowners and having our open land program.
“This will be a special place for generations to come.”
The appraised value of the property is about $1.3 million. The Bitter Root Land Trust worked with the Smith family to determine what they would need for compensation in order to give up development rights on 98 percent of the parcel, and came up with about $850,000. The federal Farm Bill will provide $550,000 of that, with the other $295,000 coming from the $10 million open space bond passed by Ravalli County voters in 2006.
“The Farm Bill is works especially well on easements on the ground with inherently strong agricultural values,” Ricklefs said.
A closing date for the transaction hasn't been set yet.
The Auch Angus Ranch involves 85 acres on either side of Popham Lane north of Corvallis, with 84 acres being put into conservation easement. The proposal retains two building sites on the property
Ricklefs said the site is irrigated pasture and hay ground, with 57 acres on the north side of Popham Lane and 27 acres on the south side. On average, Dwight and Darlene Auch run about 35 cow-calf pairs on the property, and average upward of 3 tons of hay per acre.
“This provides scenic open space from both sides of Popham Lane,” Ricklefs told the commissioners. “It contributes to the agriculture open space character of the Corvallis Community.”
The property has an appraised value of $310,000, and project costs are expected to be about $33,660, for a total cost of $343,600. Ricklefs said the Auch family is donating roughly two-thirds of the value — $228,660 — and they’re seeking $115,000 from the open space bond.
“Overall, we are excited about this project,” Ricklefs said. "I think it’s a good fit for the bond and a good fit for the Covallis neighborhood.”
Commissioner Doug Schallenberger noted that there’s no doubt it’s a beautiful piece of agricultural property, but he questioned the donated value.
“I understand maybe giving up your subdivision rights, but what if the property isn’t eligible to be subdivided? What are you giving up?” Schallenberger asked.
Ricklefs explained that the appraiser identified the value of what the land is worth today without any proposed restrictions on it, which is how they arrived at the $310,000 value. Even if it’s not able to be subdivided due to restrictions on water or sewer, it still could become a commercial development, like a storage facility.
“A good way to think about it is there is a broad spectrum of potential buyers when there are no restrictions,” Ricklefs said. “If it’s limited to agriculture, that limits your pool of buyers.”
He added that the parcel is in an area with “some of the deepest, most productive soils in the county.
“It’s where agriculture needs to continue for our diversified economy,” Ricklefs said. “There is a remarkable amount of momentum going on there, and this project fits right into it.”