Carson City officials closed a deal last week to seal off at least 380 acres of scenic land west of town from future development, with 200 acres more possibly to follow.
"This (land) was one of the top priorities of city supervisors," said Carson City Open Space Manager Juan Guzman. "The scenic value of this place is just extraordinary."
The hillside property consists of "high ground" at Kings Canyon Road, well after the pavement ends, and "low ground," a lush irrigated meadow surrounded by the peaks and ridges. The city bought the high ground for more than $2.8 million - $1 million of which is being covered by a state grant - and is negotiating a conservation easement for the rest.
The purchase is one of several the city has been pursuing over the last few years in a grab for undeveloped land deemed instrumental in maintaining a high quality of life as subdivisions grow and the population expands. But the conservation easement would be the first in the history of Carson City.
Under the agreement, which is still being negotiated between property owner Mike Fagen and the city, Fagen would receive nearly $790,000 - about $600,000 coming from state grant money - in return for giving up the right to develop the 200-acre meadow in Kings Canyon. He will still own it, but it must remain either open space or agricultural property in perpetuity. The irrigated meadow is now used for pasture.
As part of the conservation agreement, Fagen is trying to keep the right to construct a retreat lodge and six to eight cabins slightly hidden from view in the meadow's heavily forested edge, which the public could rent for overnight stays. The lodge would be run as a nonprofit organization, according to the city.
"That would serve his (Fagen's) desire to put the land in use," Guzman said.
Fagen could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Open space officials are negotiating conservation easements, under which a property owner is paid to give up development rights, on other parcels as well, as well as several other outright land purchases.
The largest plot the city is trying to buy is 373 acres straddling the Carson River in east Carson City - a purchase for which the city is seeking another state grant this year. The city is also looking to buy 41 to 69 acres in two different parcels near the Carson River at Golden Eagle Lane, 80 acres in Ash Canyon and another 40 acres in Kings Canyon.
The budget to buy land for open space comes from a quarter-percent sales tax voters approved in 1996 for quality-of-life enhancements. Forty percent of money generated from the tax, about $600,000 a year, is set aside for land purchases.
The city has saved up about $3 million for purchases and took out a $3 million loan so more land could be bought now.
"Buying open space now, in this decade, there's so much more opportunity," Guzman said.
A 2002 statewide ballot measure created a grant fund specifically to help preserve open space, river ecosystems and scenic viewsheds. By buying land while there's still money left in the grant fund, the city has a chance to share more costs with the state and preserve more property, Guzman said.
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