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Zayante Sandhills Conservation Bank

February 12, 2008 - The Valley Post

Environmentalists and Property Owners Both Win in Zayante Sandhills Deal

By Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone

It is not often that we are presented with an opportunity to preserve a significant habitat and at the same time offer solutions to land owners seeking to better utilize their property. This January we were able to accomplish both.
The Board of Supervisors approved an agreement with a local privately owned land bank that will guarantee the protection of the unique and valuable Zayante Sandhills habitat, and at the same time allow some land owners to obtain permits to do small scale developments that have long been nearly impossible to obtain.
The Land Bank purchased land that is high quality habitat and is charged with protecting the land and preserving the habitat in perpetuity.
With this agreement between Santa Cruz County and the Land Bank and the agreement already in place between the Land Bank and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, many owners of more urbanized properties in the Sandhills area will be able to obtain permits through the county to add on, put in driveways, build garages and do other similar projects.

Sandhills Unique Habitat

The Sandhills are indeed a particularly unique and fragile habitat. These sand hills are an ecosystem found only in parts of the San Lorenzo Valley, Scotts Valley and Bonny Doon and shelter a number of endangered and unique rodent, insect, and plant species. The Sandhills habitat is a very small and special habitat that exists nowhere else in the world.
Because it is home to a number of endangered species, any disturbance of the habitat is a violation of the Endangered Species Act, which was originally signed into law by President Nixon back in 1973.
The original Sandhills area had been severely reduced by quarry excavation and some residential development in parts of Ben Lomond, Zayante, Felton, Mount Hermon, and Scotts Valley.
Most property owners have been unaware of the impact of the Endangered Species Act on them until they inquired about adding a room or garage to their existing home, only to be told they virtually could not do any further development on their parcel without obtaining a "take permit" from the federal government, a process that is very expensive and time consuming.
Property owners with existing homes are particularly impacted, because the habitat had clearly already been disturbed. Plans to add space to accommodate a growing family or even to add on a patio were immediately put on indefinite hold.

New Deal Answers Many Questions

Federal law does allow very limited development in designated endangered habitat areas, if property owners can mitigate disturbances to the environment by dedicating large portions of their property to remain undisturbed. However, even if a local property owner went through the lengthy and expensive application process for a take permit with the federal office of Fish and Wildlife, approval for small parcels in the San Lorenzo Valley would be virtually impossible.
We needed to come up with a local solution that would accommodate local home owners, and would also provide a large protected area of the Sandhills that would never be open for development.
We were fortunate to have a private group with environmental interests step forward to tackle this issue. They worked with the federal office of Fish and Game and the Santa Cruz County Planning Department to set up a land bank that would serve to mitigate small scale projects in specified eligible areas.
The plan would allow small property owners to pay into the land bank through a relatively simple application process and a fee of $7.50 per square foot to offset the cost of establishing the protected area.
While the fee does add to the cost of a project, it does allow the project to be completed. The program is voluntary. Property owners continue to have the option of applying for federal permits that are more lengthy and expensive, but most would not choose that option.
The program will initiate an easier way to accomplish small projects on parcels that have already been developed.

Worth the Wait…

It has taken a long time to work out all of the aspects of the agreements, and some property owners have waited for several years while the details of the program were negotiated.
I am pleased to report the program was approved by the Board of Supervisors at the Jan. 8 meeting. This is very good news for the affected home owners and the county negotiated the best deal possible for residents and now provides a reasonable way to mitigate the effects of the Endangered Species Act.

Site Assessment Qualified Biologists:

Entomological Consulting Services, Ltd.
104 Mountain View Court
Pleasant Hill, CA 94523-2188
Richard A. Arnold, Ph.D.
Phone: 925-825-3784

Jodi M. McGraw, Ph.D.
Population and Community Ecologist
PO Box 883
Boulder Creek, CA 95006
Phone: (831) 338-1990

More Information:

  • How To Permit Projects in the Sandhills

  • Do you Live in the Sandhills? (Service Area)

  • Submit your property information

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