Another three acres of farmland adjacent to Corrales Road at the north end of the valley is under an option for the Village to purchase a conservation easement. The three acres between Corrales Road and the Bosque Preserve are known as the Lopez Farm, owned by Emilio, Veronica and Renee Lopez. If the Village’s acquisition is completed, they would continue to own the land, but not the right to subdivide it for home sites. In that sense, the land would be preserved in perpetuity as open space or farmland. The minimum price for such a conservation easement on that tract is $360,000. The Village’s option runs until November 30, 2021.
At the June 15 Village Council meeting, councillors voted on whether to gain that option. Their decision could not be included in this issue. The Lopez farm would be the second property in recent weeks for which the Village gained an option to purchase such an easement. The Village is set to preserve in perpetuity another 10 acres of farmland at the north end of Corrales. That is the Phelps Farm on the east side of Corrales Road where Trees of Corrales has had a tree nursery for its wholesale business in recent years. It is a little south of the intersection with Romero Road, one of the main entrances to the Bosque Preserve.
The offered Lopez acreage is just two parcels away from the Trees of Corrales Phelps Farm, to the south, near Lipe Road. At the May 25 Village Council meeting, an option to purchase a conservation easement on that land owned by Courtnay and Anne Koontz was approved unanimously. A final appraisal has yet to be made, but the Village is expected to pay approximately $780,000 to prevent the tract from being developed. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.8 June 5, 2021 “Another 10 Acres of Prime Farmland To Be Saved.”) The money for both easement acquisitions has been generated from sale of general obligation (GO) bonds as directed by Corrales voters in the 2018 municipal election. Those bonds were issued to raise $2.5 million to be used for farmland preservation.
The 9.78-acre tract is under an option until the end of October this year. Last year, the Village acquired a similar easement on the Haslam family’s farm a little south of the Phelps land between the Main Canal and the Corrales Lateral irrigation ditch west of Corrales Road. That earlier acquisition preserved 12 acres at a cost of approximately $960,000 from those GO bonds. The agreement between the Lopez family and the Village of Corrales notes that the three acres “includes scenic open space located along, visible from, and directly adjacent to Corrales Road, the primary thoroughfare through the village the Corrales Bosque Preserve; and a public recreational trail along Sandoval Lateral, which is frequented by many residents and visitors for walking, running, horseback riding and mountain biking. The publicly accessible viewing platform along the Sandoval Lateral and Corrales Bosque Preserve will also provide significant opportunities for the public to enjoy the scenic values of the property.”
As with earlier farmland added to the Village’s farmland preservation program, the easements to be acquired would be held and administered for the Village by the New Mexico Land Conservancy, based in Santa Fe. If the deal goes through, the owners of the land, or any subsequent owners, would have the right to construct an agriculture-related building within a quarter-acre enclave, similar to other earlier transactions. Early in the Village’s program, the Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission developed a check-list for the easement program with 14 “positive criteria,” including pre-1907 irrigation water rights, whether the parcel abuts an irrigation ditch, or is currently being farmed, as well as scenic quality, potential for wildlife habitat and whether there is strong neighborhood support.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet described the concept as follows. “A conservation easement is an interest in land, as defined and delineated in a deed, whereby the landowner conveys specific rights, title and interests in a property to a State, Tribal or local government or non-governmental organization. The landowner retains those rights, title and interests in the property which are specifically reserved to the landowner in the easement deed, such as the right to farm.…
“A landowner submits an application to an entity… that has an existing farm or ranch land protection program. In exchange for payment, participating landowners agree not to convert their land to non-agricultural uses, and to develop and implement a conservation plan for any highly erodible land.” The fact sheet on the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program further pointed out that “The value of a conservation easement usually is determined through a professional appraisal. A qualified appraiser assesses the difference between the fair market value of the property, often using comparable sales, and its restricted value under the easement.…
“The easements generally restrict non-farm development and subdivisions. Some farm-related housing may be allowed.… The easements become part of the land deed and are recorded in the local land records.” On August 31, 2004 by a margin of nearly 5-to-1, Corrales voters approved issuance of municipal bonds to buy conservation easements on farmland here to keep it out of development. The 2004 bond election was the culmination of a 33-year commitment by villagers to keep their community rural. At least 29 states in the United States have conservation easement programs to save farmland. Those have already secured at least 6.5 million acres for future agricultural use. According to the American Farmland Trust, “Every day 2,000 acres of agricultural land are paved over, fragmented or converted to uses that jeopardize farming.”