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Helena City-County Building

Helena City-County Building

A 30-day public comment period opened Tuesday on a request to use the Lewis and Clark County open space bond fund to purchase development rights on nearly 125 acres along Trout Creek.

The Prickly Pear Land Trust is sponsoring an application on behalf of Marty Welch and Susan Shellabarger and Tia Nelson and Derek Brown, who are seeking $228,000 from the open space bond.

Voters approved the bond in 2008 to help protect open space, working farm, ranch and forest lands. Ground water, drinking water and water in streams and rivers were also proposed for protection through projects the bond could help fund. Managing growth and development were also among uses for the bond.

Of the $10 million that was approved for use, bonds for only $3 million have been sold, said Nancy Everson, the county’s finance director.

Conservation easements and other approved uses of bond funds, including $273,303 approved on Tuesday to aid in the purchase of two lots that will expand Helena’s Mount Ascension Natural Park, have reduced the $3 million to $1,243,697, according to her tally of how the bond has been spent.

Property taxes are used toward repayment of the $3 million. In fiscal year 2016, which ends June 30 of that year, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 will pay $5.94 toward repayment of the $3 million, Everson said.

The Welch property is about 25 miles from Helena and along York Road just before the Vigilante Campground.

A county staff report said the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust will provide the remaining $224,000 toward the appraised value of the conservation easement.

The initially requested $180,000 from the open space bond fund was increased, a county staff report noted, because the funds available from the conservation trust had declined.

Brown and Nelson are anticipating purchasing the Welch property, Brown told the commission.

He suggested the owners consider a conservation easement, which is what he would have done after purchasing the land.

Selling development rights limits how land can be used and reduces its value.

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The conservation easement is helping facilitate the sale of the property, said Eric Bryson, the county’s chief administrative officer, after the meeting.

Because public money is being sought for the easement, Brown said, a parking lot will be developed and access provided for fishing and wildlife viewing. About 1 1/2 miles of the creek flow through the property.

“The public needs to get something more out of it more than just driving down the road and being able to see it,” Brown said.

No hunting will be allowed on the property -- there is significant hunting opportunity on surrounding Helena National Forest land -- nor will dogs be allowed because of livestock, the staff report stated.

Concerns were raised by the county’s legal staff regarding the appraisal, but Bryson said afterward it’s likely the county would accept it despite “scrivener’s errors” that were noted.

This is the largest tract of private property in the Trout Creek Valley, said Andrea Silverman, land protection coordinator with the Prickly Pear Land Trust.

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Al Knauber can be reached at al.knauber@helenair.com

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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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