Friday, December 17, 2010

Preserve, former ‘new town’ sites sell

New owner has plans for conservation, land restoration


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Crystal Creek Preserve, part of Crystal Creek Ranch south of Bellevue, was sold along with Spring Creek Ranch, the site of a formerly proposed town, to part-time valley resident Harry Hagey on Wednesday. Much of Crystal Creek, almost 1,400 acres, is protected by a conservation easement. Photo by David N. Seelig

Two high-profile properties south of Bellevue, the Spring Creek Ranch and the Crystal Creek Ranch, have been sold to a part-time valley resident who said he views the purchase as a "major conservation opportunity."

"Our goal with this purchase is to protect the incredible wildlife habitat and agricultural land found on these ranches," stated Harry Hagey, who has a home at the Flying Heart Ranch north of Hailey, in a news release. "We are considering a number of conservation and protection options for the property."

The deal by Hagey and his wife, Shirley Hagey, to buy the properties was reportedly closed Wednesday. Both properties had been owned by partnerships that included several valley residents and developers.

The properties are on each side of U.S. Highway 20 near Timmerman Junction, west of state Highway 75. Hagey said both parcels, totaling 4,600 acres, will be managed as one property.

The land has a significant conservation element. Almost 1,400 acres of the Crystal Creek Ranch property, on the north side of Highway 20, is permanently protected by a conservation easement. The Bureau of Land Management holds a conservation easement on 100 acres of the Spring Creek Ranch property on the south side of Highway 20. The terms of the latter easement prohibit development and agricultural use, but allow limited cattle grazing on a rotating basis.

A development plan for the proposed Crystal Creek Ranch subdivision, approved by Blaine County in 2008, limited development of the area to 230 acres, or 14 percent of the 1,620-acre property. The plan includes 38 homes in 11 "clusters" near the property's north end. Formerly known as the Diamond Dragon Ranch, the property has the oldest water rights in Blaine County, dating back to 1880.

Proceeds from the development of the ranch were meant to partially drive a large-scale conservation effort. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a wetlands restoration plan for the property includes restoration of 150 acres around 13 wetlands basins, while the balance of the easement will benefit from changes in livestock grazing and irrigation management. The projects were funded by both private landowner funds and by federal funding.

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Some restoration has already been carried out, said County Commissioner Larry Schoen, who has toured the property and who voted to approve the ranch's development plan.

For years, developers George Kirk and Bob Kantor had floated a concept of building a "new town" on the Spring Creek property to house commuters to the Wood River Valley. In 2006, the Urban Land Institute identified it as a viable location for a new town, but determined that more study was needed before development should begin.

The recent recession hit before the proposed development could progress further.

Hagey said he and his wife have not decided on a conservation plan yet, but that they are keeping their options open.

"As new owners, we are still learning the property and its opportunities for conservation," he said. "We will not be subdividing the property."

Schoen said he would be interested in hearing Hagey's eventual plans for the property.

"I understand that this is a private purchase, but there has always been a great deal of public interest in this property," he said. "To the extent that Mr. Hagey wants to share his plans, I look forward to hearing them."

Kirk and John Sofro of John Alan Partners, both based out of Ketchum, were involved in the partnerships that owned the properties and acted as brokers in their sale.

Sofro said the asking price on Crystal Creek was $14.5 million and the Spring Creek property was set to bring in $13 million. However, he said the buyer did not meet the asking price.

Listings on Kirk and Sofro's websites indicate that prices have gone as high as $18 million for Crystal Creek and $15 million for Spring Creek. Both properties were on the market for about four and a half years, according to Sofro.

Sofro said the sale is a good sign for the valley's real estate market.

"This is a wonderful thing in the valley, for conservation and for the environment," he said. "For the first time in quite a while, there is an interest in these sorts of properties."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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