Owner of Reno ranch targeted for preservation won't sell

RENO -- A plan to preserve the historic 1,000-acre Ballardini ranch in the foothills south of Reno is in jeopardy now that the owner no longer wants to sell.

The $15 million in federal money that had been earmarked for the public acquisition has been yanked because of owner's unwillingness to sell the property.

That mean's only $4 million remains of the amount available for public purchase of the land.

"It's a huge setback," Washoe County Manager Katy Singlaub told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "Re-creating $15 million for land acquisition is a huge challenge."

Evans Creek LLC, the developer that owns the land, broke off negotiations with the county in May 2002. It's lawyer, Stephen Mollath of Reno, claimed at the time that the county had tried to decrease the value of the land through a new regional plan.

But county officials said they had tried to preserve the ranch's value through the regional plan, which set boundaries for future annexation and where municipal services would be provided.

When the county appeared to be proceeding as if Evans Creek still was a willing seller, Mollath sent a letter to federal officials last month to indicate otherwise and demand the ranch be removed from a list of land nominated for funding.

Mollath told the Gazette-Journal on Friday the county had been deceptive in making it appear talks were continuing and the federal money was available.

"It's been a long time since we were willing sellers," Mollath said.

Singlaub said Friday that the county has not been deceptive and notified federal officials in May 2002 of Evans Creeks' unwillingness to sell.

"We have been very clear with folks that its always been dependent on a willing seller," she said.

Public acquisition of the ranch, on the south side of McCarran Boulevard at Manzanita Drive, would provide a link to U.S. Forest Service lands and preserve the area for wildlife and recreation.

County Parks Director Karen Mullen said the county is looking for other funding sources.

The $15 million is from the sale of public land in the Las Vegas area and is to be used for public purchase of environmentally sensitive land in Nevada.

But such funding requires a willing seller.

Of the $19 million that had been available for the land, $4 million is from a local bond issue. Mullen said the appraisal to determine the lands market value would be finished in a few months.

Evans Creek Ltd. bought the ranch from the Ballardini family for $8.5 million in 1998. The developer had proposed in January 2000 to build nearly 1,000 homes on 411 acres of the ranch. But Mollath declined to discuss development plans for the property, saying it was a separate issue from the annexation.

Steve Walther of Protect Our Washoe said the group will continue to fight to save the ranch as open space.

"It is a bump in the road," Walther said.

In letters this week to the Reno City Council and Washoe County Commission, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., pledged to help find funding for public purchase of the ranch.

Those wanting to preserve the ranch scored a victory this week when the Reno City Council rejected the property owners request to annex the land to the city. Annexation could raise the property value, making acquisition more costly, some feared.


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