Open space views from the proposed development’s site | Photo: ferriniranch.com
By Royal Calkins
If all goes according to plan, the 185-lot Ferrini Ranch development will never get built.
The state Sustainable Agriculture Lands Conservation program is expected next week to grant $10.5 million to the Ag Land Trust of Monterey County so it can buy the development rights for 866 acres along Highway 68 between Monterey and Salinas and put it in permanent preservation status.
“It’s a big deal,” said the Ag Land Trust’s Marc Del Piero, a former county supervisor who helped negotiate the agreement with the property owners, the Kelton family of Southern California. The purchase price exceeds the size of the state grant but additional funding is in place, said Del Piero. He said he could not disclose the full price.
The Keltons will be allowed to build four houses on one-acre lots but the bulk of the property will be under a permanent open space conservation easement.
The property is mostly sloped grazing land on the south side of Highway 68 between the county-owned Toro Park and the Toro Park subdivision. It stretches from River Road west almost to San Benancio Road and includes the large organic farm near River and 68.
Southern California developer Mark Kelton built the Toro Park subdivision and has been attempting for nearly two decades to develop the more upscale Ferrini Ranch project, partly visible from Highway 68 and partially tucked into the hills. He and his brothers have been among the most persistent and generous contributors to the campaigns of most of Monterey County’s supervisors throughout those decades of planning and lobbying.
“I’m amazed,” LandWatch Monterey County’s chief executive, Michael De Lapa, said when he learned of the grant late Tuesday. LandWatch had challenged the development in court, principally over water issues and the adequacy of the environmental impact report. Kelton prevailed at both the Superior Court and appellate level.
De Lapa said he had run into Kelton a week ago and he didn’t let on.
The venture has been controversial since inception for all sorts of environmental and traffic concerns. Highway 68 at rush hours is the county’s most congested thoroughfare, and critics dismissed the notion that widening part of the roadway fronting Ferrini Ranch would prove effective.
On a 3-2 vote, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the project in 2014 over strenuous objections from the neighbors. To help craft that decision, then-Supervisor Lou Calcagno came up with an off-the-cuff plan to require Kelton to pay $425,000 for a feasibility study of a community services district to handle the area’s wastewater. Supporters and opponents of the project agreed at the time that the study would never happen. They were proved right two years ago when Supervisor John Phillips, Calcagno’s successor, cast the pivotal vote needed to scrap that plan.
The Sustainable Agriculture Lands Conservation program is part of the state’s Commerce Department. It is also a part of California Climate Investments, which uses cap-and-trade dollars collected from industry and puts them to use on environmentally sound ventures.
The grant to the Land Trust is on the SALC Council’s Dec. 17 agenda along with proposed grants for an additional $45 million in projects throughout California. Though there are no guarantees that the Monterey County effort will receive the money, the staff has made it the agency’s top priority for funding this year and there is no known opposition.
The Ag Land Trust of Monterey County has been in business since 1948 and has managed to create conservation easements covering some 45,000 acres of farmland.
Among those heavily involved in the Kelton transaction were executive director Sherwood Darington, former county ag commissioner Dick Nutter and Del Piero, a board member and attorney for the trust.
“This is a thoroughly satisfying transaction,” Del Piero said late Tuesday. He said it will help prevent additional traffic jams on the highway, which, he noted, was the first officially designated Scenic Highway in the county.
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