by BRAD ROLLINS
Officials say Hays County and its partners will close any day now on the purchase of an easement on the 2,275-acre Dahlstrom Ranch. Owner Gay Dahlstrom says she is nearly at a point at which she will have to sell to developers.
The county, the city of Austin and the Nature Conservancy wanted to close the deal by Dec. 31, saving Dahlstrom and her family from paying another year of taxes on the property. However, what is being described as a holdup in paperwork at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service over non-substantive changes to the contract delayed closing over the holidays.
Seeking amended authorization from the Hays County Commissioners Court to allow for a 2010 closing, Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, an architect of the ranch’s preservation, said he expects negotiations to be settled sooner rather than later.
“It is a program involving one of the most important uplands recharge features in all of Central Texas. It is a five-party agreement which makes it something of a landmark in itself,” Barton said.
Hays County is contributing about $5.3 million toward the easement purchase; the city of Austin is putting up $1 million. The parties expect to receive a $4 million grant from the NRCS.
Located southwest of the intersection of FM 1626 and RM 967 near Buda, the Dahlstrom Ranch is profiled in the January issue of Texas Monthly magazine.
The ranch “remains one of the largest undivided parcels of land in the eastern Hill Country. It’s a reminder of what the region used to be,” Andrew Sansom writes, describing a terrain marked by limestone outcroppings and caves important to recharge of the Edwards Aquifer.
The article states, “… It is important to realize the severity of the crisis posed by the continued fragmentation of family property. … The stresses of rising property taxes, inheritance taxes and suburban development have combined to drive landowners from ancestral lands faster than ever before, putting our wildlife, our water supplies, and our very sense of place in jeopardy.”
Preservation of the property is a bargain, Barton said. The land is worth $40-50 million on the open market, he said, and even a conservation easement is appraised at $23 million. Sale of the development rights to the land for less than $10 million constitutes the largest land donation to Hays County.
“It is a gift to the current citizens and it is a gift to future generations,” he said.
The county is also negotiating lease of the 350-acre Howe Pasture on the ranch for public access. The current iteration of that deal, thought it is not signed, calls for a seven year lease with the option of three 5-year extensions.Email | Print