SLT in the News

Solano land war nears end with stroke of a pen

Author: By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | March 22, 2011 17:12
Date: Mar 23, 2011

View of the Suisun Marsh and Mount Diablo from Rockville Trails Estates. Photo by Jorge Fleige, courtesy of Solano Land Trust.

FAIRFIELD - Solano Land Trust and the owner of Rockville Trails Estates have signed a purchase agreement that could see 1,500 acres preserved as open space at a cost of $13.6 million.

Now the Land Trust must come up with the money to buy the property. Land Trust officials have said they believe they can secure $11.6 million from state and private grants and local open space assessments. That leaves $2 million that still must be found.

'It's the opportunity of a lifetime for the Land Trust,' said David Carroll of White Wings Highland Associates, which owns the property.

The Rockville Trails Estates land in hills near Suisun and Green valleys has been the focus of some of the county's most intense growth wars over the past few decades. In 2008, the county Board of Supervisors by a 3-2 vote approved allowing 370 homes there.

But the Green Valley Landowners Association and Sierra Club sued. The opportunity for the Land Trust to purchase the bulk of the Rockville Trails Estates land is part of the pending lawsuit settlement.

'It's one of those unbelievable opportunities,' Land Trust Executive Director Nicole Byrd said.

A Land Trust memorandum released in February said the negotiated price of $13.6 million for the land is lower than the $17.2 million value put on it by an appraisal. The Land Trust Board of Directors at its Feb. 2 meeting agreed to move ahead with the purchase attempt.

The resulting purchase agreement allows the Land Trust to first purchase 330 acres for $3 million, Carroll said. He has asked the Solano County zoning administrator to reconfigure the parcels of the property to allow this purchase to go forward.

Money for this initial purchase would come from local open space assessment districts in Fairfield and Green Valley, according to the Land Trust.

Then the Land Trust will try to raise the money for the remaining 1,170 acres. The Moore Foundation is to give $1.5 million and the Land Trust is seeking $4.1 million from the state Coastal Conservancy and $3 million from the state Department of Fish and Game.

Should this funding come through, as Land Trust officials expect, the nonprofit group would still have to raise $2 million by Aug. 31.

'That's going to be a challenge,' Byrd said. 'There's a lot of people interested in seeing that property preserved, so I think we'll see a lot of help.'

The Land Trust is putting out a call to the community to help raise the money. It will also seek other state and federal money, she said.

'It will be a combination,' Byrd said.

If this second Land Trust purchase doesn't take place, homes could then be built on the remaining 1,170 acres, Carroll said. But the number would be decreased to 185 houses, he said.

'It's a drastically different plan than what we had up there before,' Carroll said.

Bill Mayben of the Green Valley Landowners Association praised the lawsuit settlement terms.

'We feel confident that the Land Trust will be able to follow through on their option and secure the rest of the property and the public will gain some valuable open space,' Mayben said.

Should that not happen, the 185 homes represent a substantial reduction in what had been planned, he said. The settlement benefits the community, is fair to the property owner and creates a long-term solution, Mayben said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, ext. 232, or beberling@dailyrepublic.net.