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Guest Editorial: End Scott Ranch dispute, extend Putnam Park

You may have heard about an ambitious plan to extend Helen Putnam Regional Park down to the old red barns on D Street, converting three-fourths of Scott Ranch into parkland and allowing limited housing development on the upper corner near the Victoria subdivision. This plan is a result of a negotiated 2018 agreement between Davidon Homes, which owns the land, and our community group Kelly Creek Protection Project (KCPP).

I would have preferred, in a perfect world, for the entire ranch to become part of Putnam Park with no houses built. That's why KCPP negotiated two purchase prices, $4.1 million for the most sensitive 44 acres, including the red barn area, with only 28 homes on the remainder of the site; and $6.9 million more for a complete buy-out of Davidon's land and development rights. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we only raised a portion of the full buy-out price. I believe that our community voted with their wallets; they supported the $4.1 million partial purchase price but not the cost of preventing these mid-sized homes from being built next to the existing neighborhood.

Our ability to purchase the heart of the Scott Ranch to extend Putnam Park depends on Davidon receiving City approval to build the 28 houses. If that is rejected by the City Council, we cannot close escrow. We will not be able to acquire the land, build the trails or protect the Kelly Creek watershed and the California red-legged frog. Millions of dollars we have on deposit donated by hundreds of local neighbors (and our $1 million matching grant from Sonoma County Ag and Open Space) will go for naught.

If this plan doesn't go through, could Davidon build more homes? Yes. The General Plan residential designation that governs the land allows the owner to build a range from 28 to over 100 units. Davidon is legally bound to limit construction as part of its contract with KCPP. In other words, we didn't just buy the land; we also bought out their rights to construct any more than 28 homes on the site.

If the City rejects our joint parkland/housing proposal, Davidon would be free to return and get approval from this or any future City Council. They could build 30, 40, 50 or more homes or carve the entire ranch into wealthy estates, heavily limit public access, or change the existing natural open space aesthetic. Our lawyer has advised us that if our proposal doesn't go through, something eventually will be constructed. We will lose any power to determine what that is — or to extend Putnam Park.

Could enough public pressure be brought on Davidon to force it to give up the land entirely? Well, they could sell the land to another developer who might be much less willing to compromise with the community. But Davidon cannot be forced to donate Scott Ranch to the City or County or to a nonprofit charity. Why not? Because of the U.S. Constitution: it prevents private property from being taken for public use without just compensation. Our constitution is there to protect our democracy and everyone’s rights. Among other things, it prevents the government from reaching out and just confiscating our property, from any of us, at will.

Davidon bought Scott Ranch in 2003 for $7.8 million. Eighteen years later, we are in a position to buy the most beautiful three-quarters of the ranch for half that price. At no cost to the City.

With all my heart I believe this is our last best chance.

I hope that our town and its elected officials will see the value of compromise, unity, and reconciliation in our case. This is how we go beyond fighting forever, though the cause may be noble. This is how we secure the future, our legacy for generations to come.

Greg Colvin is the director of the Kelly Creek Protection Project. Contact him at info@extendputnampark.org.

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