Considering a Bennett Valley Conservancy
By Moira Jacobs
In my January article I promised to elaborate on the concept of the Bennett Valley Conservancy (BVC) project in our next newsletter. What is the BVC? What is the vision and what are the goals?
Chris Gralapp, BVCA Vice President and Editor of the Voice, and I first discussed the concept of a Bennett Valley Conservancy a couple of years ago while discussing the Bennett Valley Area Plan (BVAP). A number of us saw new pressures mounting which threatened the BVAP’s long held guidelines on development here. We recognized a need to look into new ways to strengthen the existing BVAP as well as augment it with a possible conservancy effort. Partners in a wildlife conservancy non-profit suggested we consider a conservancy model and educated us on those most practical for the Bennett Valley area.
Currently the BVC is an idea, a vision shared by many neighbors to preserve and protect Bennett Valley’s open spaces, wildlife corridors and rural character long term. We are engaged in a feasibility study in how a conservancy framework can enhance long term protections and augment the BVAP.
What Makes Bennett Valley Special and How is it Currently Protected?
Most of us chose to live in Bennett Valley due to the abundance of natural beauty, open vistas, and the bucolic rural character. It’s also a safe and peaceful place where residents value each other’s privacy and neighborliness. A unique aspect of Bennett Valley is how we are encircled by significant open space preserves and parks: Taylor Mountain, Sonoma Mountain Open Space, Jack London, and Annadel complete the ring. We also have significant wildlife corridors connecting these critical habitats, including the Matanzas Creek riparian zone.
Since 1979 our BVAP has proved an important tool in containing over-development and unwanted commercial operations here, both of which are supposed to be protected under BVAP guidelines.. The problem today is that there are new threats that make it imperative we update and strengthen the plan. For example, in recent years we’ve experienced many commercial cannabis operations being granted ministerial permits and placed throughout Bennett Valley, near residential neighborhoods, without any opportunity for input given to neighbors, nor full adherence to the BVAP guidelines. If this can happen, what else can develop if the county thinks we’re asleep or don’t care?
Several of us serving on the BVCA Board are now taking steps to be more pro-active in addressing these issues. These measures include a recent communication to the county to urge that Bennett Valley be studied as (and be granted) an exclusion zone status from large commercial cannabis operations, similar to other exclusion zones across California. It also includes our meeting with county officials to request the BVAP be fully enforced and study how it could be strengthened with updated language. Finally, the current feasibility phase of researching how a Bennett Valley Conservancy could be created is a third leg of this stool.
The Bennett Valley Conservancy Concept and Vision
The Commercial Cannabis operations issue described above is an example of how the BVAP was not enough to protect our community from unwanted commercial development. With a vision to protect our environment and rural character, a conservancy project may provide us another tool that can help reinforce our BVAP for another 50 years. The two can work as complimentary methods with the same goal: preservation of our environment and the rural residential character of Bennett Valley.
The Matanzas Creek riparian zone is a good candidate for conservancy status. Several large commercial scale cannabis operations were placed within 1,000 feet from this sensitive habitat and wildlife corridor which also functions as a critical aquifer recharger for Bennett Valley. We can do more to help prevent future damages to Matanzas Creek. For example, a conservancy easement on riparian zones throughout the valley, while preserving private property ownership, could be one way to help achieve this vision. Most importantly, this would be a voluntary participation over many years, entirely decided and controlled by the private property owners.
There can be both tax benefits and property value enhancements when any parts of private property are placed into a recognized conservancy. It’s a win-win for the private property owners as well as the flora, fauna and surrounding community, protecting wildlife corridors and open spaces for the next generations. Many deep ravines like Matanzas Creek connect our valley riparian zones, are ultimately unable to be developed and are worth protecting. With conservancy easements, these additional protections can be provided while remaining private property. Moreover, property values are usually enhanced whenever land conservancy programs are woven through a community. A property which includes, is adjacent to, or views a long-term green belt area usually increases the surrounding property values.
In following newsletters we’ll provide more information about the benefits of a conservancy area and how it can be practically achieved over decades. It’s worth noting that even the first early steps in creating a conservancy area can provide important and immediate safeguards from unwanted commercial development. We will also be researching potential grants from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other agencies, to assist funding pilot projects to establish the first conservancy easements.
Although we are only in a feasibility study stage, this is also your opportunity to get involved if interested. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more or participate in the planning stages (Chris Gralapp or Moira Jacobs). A great first step in diving deep into this topic is to read our existing Bennett Valley Area Plan which can be found here: BVAP