At the February 9 Village Council meeting to be zoomed starting at 6:30 p.m., an update will be given on the farmland preservation program. The briefing was requested at the January 26 session by Councillor Zach Burkett, who responded to a request forsuggestions for the next meeting’s agenda. “Can we get an update on conservation easements —just if there are any other properties that have been identified as interested? I have heard rumors there are some that are potentially in the works, so if we could get at least a broad update, that would be fantastic. Mayor Jo Anne Roake replied. “Absolutely. I hope it will be more than a broad update. Everybody, keep your fingers crossed!”
That seemed to contrast with the report submitted earlier in the same meeting that noted, “No private property owners are currently interested in participating in the easement program, but if opportunities arise the Village will pursue them.” However, when Corrales Comment asked Farmland Preservation Commission’s co-chair Lisa Brown, she said there is no current application to add a property to the Village’s program. “There is nothing pending.”
The Village Council approved purchase of a conservation easement on 12 acres of farmland at its December 8, 2020 session. The vote was three-to-two to pay $960,000 for an easement on the Haslam farm between the Corrales Main Canal and the Corrales Lateral irrigation ditch at the end of Kings Lane. Councillors Stuart Murray and Kevin Lucero voted no, citing prospects that a more desirable tract might become available during the next six months.
That was almost certainly a reference to the long-discussed, and negotiated possibility that the Trosello tract farther north along the east side of Corrales Road might be saved from development as home sites. Murray, Lucero and several villagers had argued that the Village had negotiated an option to purchase the Haslam tract this past summer and still had six months remaining to exercise it. They argued there was no hurry to close on the Haslam land.
With the Haslam easement purchase, that leaves approximately $1.5 million remaining of the $2.5 million raised from municipal general obligation bonds approved by voters in March 2018 for farmland preservation. Former Village Councillor Fred Hashimoto had urged a delay on the Haslam property. “Some very attractive proposals might pop up between now and June 1, and the council should not cave now to prematurely spend potential funds which might be used for a possibly more valuable proposal in the next coming months.”
Those questions drew sharp responses from then-Councillor Dave Dornburg and Mayor Roake. “I think it’s kind of folly to assume that another deal is going to come out of the woodwork at this day and age when property values in the village are only going up,” Dornburg said. “I think there has been enough man-hours and due diligence put into this process that the time has come to put it to a vote.
“There may always be another option down the road, but in my humble opinion, while I’m sure there are other pieces of property that people would rather have, this is the option we have and it meets the intent of conservation easement that we’re trying to protect.” Murray responded. “I’m not going to dispute the process. They have been working on it quite a bit. I have no objection to Mr. Haslam’s property. It’s a beautiful piece of property.” But he doubted that the offered parcel could be successful as a farm. “I’ve seen farmers back in my hometown who had 150 acres and couldn’t make a go of it and had to work two jobs to make a living…”
Mayor Roake cut in to say that was not relevant, and that waiting another six months on the Haslam option is not really an alternative, given the amount of time it has taken to get the Haslam option ready to execute. “Between getting our financing and getting the bonds issued and getting it approved through the N.M. Finance Authority and all the other gates that we have to go through actually does put the time limitations on this process. I want to address the idea that we can actually wait for months, because all of the pieces that you have voted for have gotten us to the point now where we are issuing the bonds, and that has to be done in a certain time frame… all of this was done based on two different appraisals and two different reviews by N.M. Taxation and Revenue, so I think that’s a false analogy.
“All of this work has taken place since July. It has taken a long time. It’s a lengthy and complex process,” the mayor stressed, making the point that the administration does not actually have another six months to exercise the Haslam option. Before the vote was called, Councillor Dornburg made another plea for approval. “I think it’s a good idea today, it was a good idea six months ago and it will be a good idea six months from now. If we don’t think it’s a good idea, that’s a different conversation. But we have the will of the people for a bond to buy conservation easements. We have a great conservation property in front of us. If you like the property and think it meets the will of the people, either today or in June, the answer should probably be the same.”
The motion to purchase the Haslam conservation easement was approved. More than 50 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 were issued without increasing property tax. 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.