by BRAD ROLLINSCalling it a model for preservation in rapidly developing Hays County, parties closed last week on the purchase of a conservation easement on the 2,254-acre Dahlstrom Ranch.
The deal has been in the making – and at times in limbo – since the Hays County Commissioners Court committed $5 million to the project in October 2008 from $30 million in parks and open-space bonds approved by voters in May 2007. The city of Austin contributed $1 million and the Hill Country Conservancy is putting up $4 million through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service.
“This kind of cooperation between different levels of government, the environmental community, and a private landowner is unprecedented in my experience,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton said.
Bisected by Onion Creek, the ranch is considered vital to water quality through its system of caves and sinkholes that convey rainwater to the Edwards Aquifer.
The roughly $10 million pay-out to the Dahlstroms allows the family to pay off estate taxes that threatened to force the sale of pieces of the ranch to developers, said David Braun, the Dahlstroms’ attorney.
“At the end of the day, my mother did this because she loves this land and appreciates all that it has given us. Now, it’s our family’s turn to give back to the land, and we appreciate the efforts of everyone who worked so hard to help us make that happen,” said Jack Dahlstrom, Jr.
Portions of the ranch have been in the family’s hands for five generations. In 1993, the ranch was split within the family. Gay Dahlstroms’ brother, the late James Ruby, used his share to develop the Ruby Ranch residential subdivision on Ranch Road 967 and then sold a neighboring tract to the KBDJ rock crushing plant in 2003.
Barton has said that the conservation easement is worth at least $23 million alone. Its purchase for $10 million constitutes the largest single land donation to Hays County in its history. He said, “Much of the credit here belongs to Gay Dahlstrom, who chose to preserve both her family’s heritage and the beauty of Central Texas.”
A conservation easement restricts the amount and type of development allowed on the property, and conveys the right to enforce these restrictions in perpetuity, while preserving the right to traditional agricultural uses and limited residential use. It also affords the landowners considerable tax benefits.
“This partnership provides multiple benefits, keeping this land intact for the family’s ongoing use and enjoyment while preserving the unique caves and other karst features of the ranch and furthering enhancement of its ecology and wildlife,” said Frank Davis, the Hill Country Conservancy’s land stewardship director.
In January, the commissioners court approved a lease on of 384 acres of the ranch, an area called the Howe Pasture, for parkland opened to the public in plans being developed by Hays County and the National Park Service.
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