The Village Council will vote at its December 8 meeting whether to buy a conservation easement on the Haslam farm at the north end of the valley. That might have come at their November 10 session except that the appraisal for that purchase was not available to the public ahead of the meeting. Village Attorney Randy Autio and Village Clerk Aaron Gjullin admitted the oversight and said the appraisal document would be posted on the Village’s website immediately and would be included in the information packet for the December 8 council meeting.
The appraised value of the easement that would keep the land as agricultural open space in perpetuity came in at approximately $960,000. That money would be raised by the sale of general obligation bonds approved by Corrales voters in March 2018.
At the November 10 meeting, the Village Council unanimously approved issuing $2.5 million in municipal bonds for the purpose of farmland preservation —without specifically earmarking it for the 12-acre Haslam property. This past summer, the council approved taking an option to acquire the easement amid considerable controversy over whether the transaction would be the best use of those funds. A tie vote on the matter was broken by Mayor Jo Anne Roake.
Opposition arose over the Haslam farm’s lack of visibility from Corrales Road, especially compared to the iconic Trosello fields farther north. But it was thought at the time that negotiations for the Trosello farm would not be successful. In recent weeks, talks have resumed for the possibility that at least some of the expansive fields that have grown corn, chile and other crops in the scenic foreground of the bosque and Sandia Mountains might be saved from development as one-acre home sites.
That renewed effort came after three members of the Village Council voted against the option on the proposed conservation easement for the Haslam farm in July. One of the three dissenting councillors, Bill Woldman, told Corrales Comment October 29 that he had met with the Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission’s co-chair, Lisa Brown, to discuss that opposition and learn why the effort to save the Trosello tract had fizzled.
“She reached out to me about why I hadn’t voted for the Haslam easement, and so we had a walking tour of that farm. In the course of that, we discussed the possibility of some kind of joint operation of the Trosello fields.” Woldman recalled that “when voters were asked to approve general obligation bonds for farmland preservation, it was the Trosello tract that people were excited about. The Trosello field was the number one target for use of those funds, and about 80 percent of Corrales voters were in favor of that bond proposal. I wanted to know why nothing was happening with that.”
When Corrales Comment raised the same question to the Village’s negotiator, Michael Sisco of Unique Places LLC earlier this year, he said that the owner of the Trosello tract had lost interest in participating in the Village’s conservation easement program. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.10 August 8, 2020 “Farmland Preservation Easement Decision Explained.”)
He added: “We exhausted our options on Trosello before Haslam became a potential project.” At the November 10 council meeting, former Councillor Fred Hashimoto urged members to postpone any action on the Haslam proposal. He said he wanted to address the process, “not about any cons or pros of the Haslam proposal, which I don’t think is a particularly good deal, nor about the timing of a final decision on the proposal, which would make most sense to be done closer to June of 2021, the deadline Haslam gave.
“Tonight, I’m speaking about transparency of government and why the Haslam approval item should not be on tonight’s agenda,” Hashimoto continued. “An appraisal apparently has been done for the Haslam conservation easement proposal, but it has not been made available for public inspection and comment. It is neither in the meeting agenda packet nor on the Village website; at least as far as I and others can tell.
“Interestingly, the final purchase price is $960,000, which was the minimum, base price asked by Haslam. Months ago, a projected final price was about $1,200,000. One wonders whether a realistic purchase price might be lower than $960,000 and it was reverse-engineered up to meet the sellers’ minimum asking price. I’m not saying that’s what happened, but the public should be able to see the appraiser’s data, calculations and conclusions and perhaps comment on them before the governing body votes to finalize the deal.
“Not allowing public inspection of the non-confidential appraisal, which was paid for by public funding and concerns public funding, is not an example of transparency in government. Hashimoto said he had consulted with the N.M. Foundation for Open Government which confirmed that the appraisal should be public record.
“Because the appraisal has not been available for public inspection and comment, I request that Haslam approval item be tabled until such time when it has, or if you think the proposal does not fit the bill, reject it.” More than 40 acres of Corrales farmland has been brought under conservation easement since the effort began here in 2000. Villagers overwhelmingly approved a bond proposal for $2.5 million for that purpose in 2004, but the last of those bond proceeds was spent in 2015. Since the bonds now have been paid off, more bonds could be issued without increasing property tax.
A key figure in that early effort was then-Councillor Sayre Gerhart, who explained its importance this way. “We have prime soils in the valley, limited in New Mexico and valuable to the state and to the country. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded conservation easements in Corrales, they did so to protect prime soils for agricultural use, all the more valuable for agriculture because of the superb water delivery system to the land.”
And beyond those values, she said, “We preserve farmland in order to preserve our lifestyle, our quality of life and our property values in Corrales.” She stressed the importance of issuing more general obligation (GO) bonds to preserve portions of remaining farmland. “The local GO bonds are critical for farmland conservation to make financial sense in New Mexico. First of all, the federal grant programs require a local match. Secondly, we have the highest land values per acre in the Corrales/Albuquerque area, so we need to bring cash to the table as an option for property owners.”
“We need to offer property owners an alternative, to provide a program over several years, decades, which gives an option to not develop the land. That is the vision behind the funding of the second GO bond proposal,” Gerhart explained. The first conservation easement here was donated by former Corrales resident Jonathan Porter on land west of Corrales Road at the south end of the valley. Similar to the Haslam farm, the Porter tract is not visible from Corrales Road, nor are most others.
Corrales’ interest in preserving farmland dates back at least to its incorporation as a municipality in 1971. The first master plan produced for the new Village government in 1973 recommended techniques be explored to accomplish that. Successive planning documents and ordinances over the years have endorsed that goal. (See Corrales Comment Vol. II, No. 8, August 20, 1983 “Can Corrales Stay Farmland Forever? Yes, Say Planners, & Here’s How.”)
Corrales’ first conservation easement of six acres along Mira Sol Road in 2001 was donated by the landowner, not sold. Jonathan Porter believed in keeping fertile land under cultivation and his donation of the easement to the Taos Land Trust provided helpful tax benefits.