Developer pushes for resolution from Habitat Conservation Plan, Sand Hollow land swap compromise

ST. GEORGE – As one of three remaining major land owners with property in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, developer Bob Brennan is pushing officials for a solution, offering several options including a compromise of only taking 450 acres in the popular Sand Mountain Recreation Area.

Previous proposals to exchange into 1,200 acres in the popular off-highway vehicle area have become controversial, and the Utah Public Lands Alliance, a local land use group, has vowed to use every conceivable legal means available to prevent any land from being removed from Sand Mountain, known locally as Sand Hollow or  just the sand dunes.

Desert tortoise, Red Cliffs Reserve near Chuckwalla and Paradise Rim Trails, Washington County, Utah, May 24, 2015 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George Newsl
Desert tortoise, Red Cliffs Reserve near Chuckwalla and Paradise Rim Trails, Washington County, Utah, May 24, 2015 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George Newsl

The proposal to acquire 450 acres in Sand Mountain in exchange for part of his property is just one of several options presented by Brennan to the Habitat Conservation Plan Advisory Committee Tuesday.

“We’re asking this group, we’ll give you 30 to 60 days, to come back with a plan, of your alternatives … because what we’ve done in the past has not worked,” Brennan told the committee.

The advisory committee and county officials are working to resolve the outstanding land issues, and avoid potential barriers to the renewal of the HCP, which expires in 2016. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have said that the existing permit will remain in place, as long as there are good faith negotiations underway.

A stake marks the border of land slated to be part of the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News
A stake marks the border of land slated to be part of the proposed Sand Hollow land exchange, July 11, 2014 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Options presented by Brennan include land exchanges, outright purchase of Brennan’s property, conservation easements, private land owner donations, development within the reserve, fundraising for property purchase through a local government impact fee or property tax, and a Congressional appropriation for purchase of the properties.

Brennan said he is willing to accept any combination of options available to the principals in the Habitat Conservation Plan to acquire his land in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, although his preferred option is a simple purchase of his property.

“I’d much rather just get money and be done with this,” Brennan said, and is willing to take payments over a period of years if that’s better for everyone involved. “But they have to give me the plan.”

Brennan owns roughly 800 acres in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, which was created 20 years ago in an arrangement that protects the endangered Mojave desert tortoise while also allowing development to continue in the rest of the county.

Proposed Long Valley exchange parcel | Image courtesy Washington County Geographical Information Systems
Proposed Long Valley exchange parcel | Image courtesy Washington County Geographical Information Systems

The HCP states that landowners within the reserve will be compensated, and allows for a private landowner to trade his land for BLM property of equal value. Several parcels have been identified for trade, including the Sand Hollow parcel.

The county, the off-road users, the BLM and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all have their preferred solutions, but none they have been able to agree on, Brennan said in an earlier interview.

The advisory committee is moving forward on an exchange in the Long Valley area, in which Brennan would acquire approximately 610 acres from the BLM. The property is worth $10,000 to $12,000 per acre, Brennnan said Thursday. At that price, the total value of the Long Valley property is $6.1 million to $7.3 million.

Ultimately, resolution will not come from any one option, said Larry Crist, who represents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the committee.

“I think it’s going to have to be a combination of approaches, probably,” Crist said. “No one approach is probably going to work.”

 Funding for land exchanges through the Land and Water Conservation Fund is still an option, said Dawna Ferris-Rowley, the BLM representative on the committee. The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides money to federal, state and local governments to purchase land, water and wetlands for the benefit of all Americans.

“We keep submitting requests,” she said, but getting approval may require a firmer plan.

“The (Land and Water Conservation) fund has funded other smaller projects in Washington County,” she said. “The incredibly high property values with Brennan’s property could be a problem.”

While Brennan will not disclose how much he has invested in the land, he believes his property in the Reserve is worth in excess of $110 million. Brennan has said previously that he is willing to take $24 million in land value or in cash. He has already been paid $3 million for 22 acres in the Reserve, and donated 11 acres in that transaction.

Crist said there needs to be a comprehensive plan for moving forward, which will increase the chances of getting funding from other sources, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Section 6 funds.

“So I think if we had a good strategy that showed that no one fund or no one source is going to  have to bear the whole burden it would increase our chances,” Crist said.

Mustang Pass on Red Cliffs Reserve,  adjacent to Green Springs area of Washington, Utah, March 2013 | Photo for illustrative purposes only, by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News
Mustang Pass on Red Cliffs Reserve, adjacent to Green Springs area of Washington, Utah, March 2013 | Photo for illustrative purposes only, by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

“I completely support that we need to get the private in-holders out of the Reserve,” Crist said, adding that there has been a lot of progress made already.

“There has been over $90 million dollars in land trades and acquisitions that have gone on already,” Crist said, which has far exceeded the original estimates of what would be required. When the HCP was formed, land values were not expected to reach today’s levels, Crist said.

“There’s been significant work and effort, and a huge amount of money that’s gone into this, we just still have to finish it up and get over the final hurdles,” Crist said. “We’re down to the hard stuff.”

Resources

Related posts

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

9 Comments

  • Brian May 29, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Not one square inch of Sand Hollow. Stand your ground, people. No compromise. Pick somewhere else, Brennan. Or we could just forget the whole “endangered tortoise” scam altogether.

    • NotSoFast May 29, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      Forget the whole ‘endangered tortoise’ scam project you say?
      That does it. I’m telling the Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club and the BLM about your mean spirited suggestion buddy.
      IDEA!!! How about swapping his land for the Bundy ranch and range land down the road a piece. With the rights for Brennon to install a commercial solar cell project
      of course ?

  • Jeff May 29, 2015 at 3:41 pm

    This is prime recreation real-estate, leave it alone!

  • R. May 29, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    I agree with Brian, not one inch. Where does this developer get his arrogance from anyway, the people have spoken and i for one will not compromise. If we keep developing our recreational areas what will happen to our economy. There are millions of people who come here every year to play.

  • fun bag May 29, 2015 at 10:14 pm

    the way he got that land in the first place was fraudulent, but no one cares… hes gonna win either way

    • tcrider May 30, 2015 at 8:26 am

      not really,
      these are only possible options, no one owes the developer anything, he knew when he aqquired the property he could not build on it, hes trying to make it sound like he is owed something, in reality he is nothing but a wellfare case, probably one of the many integrity lacking realty lawyers from washington county.

  • mshaw May 30, 2015 at 3:24 am

    Just tell him deal is off give him back his land that he had let the feral government talk to him about the turtles and taxes. We don’t want million dollars homes in our playground

  • Paul Bottino May 30, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Sand Hollow is a very unique off road area. There are not many places like it left anywhere. It is as valuable as the turtle. It should be left as it is forever.

  • KarenS May 30, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Developers like Brennan, along with help from the Washington County Planning Commission, were just trying to make a quick buck by purchasing land that they knew would be part of the HCP. After paying almost nothing in property taxes for years, Brennan wants “his money” for the land. I say let Brennan’s land over in Green Springs be declared a National Monument and be done with it!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.