Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A request to apply $310,000 in funding from the Open Space Bond to preserve an 8-acre farm in the Orchard Homes neighborhood will advance to a public hearing in June, the City Council decided on Wednesday.

The Corner Farm Open Space Project sits at the corner of Tower and Third Streets and is currently owned by Neva Hassanein, who bought out the property’s other two owners last year.

Under current zoning, the 8 acres could accommodate 16 homes, though Hassanein looks to transfer half of the development rights to an adjoining 2-acre property and cancel the remaining development rights on the farm to preserve it for agriculture.

“In addition, I’m donating $100,000 toward that (farm) project,” Hassanein said. “With the protection and the establishment of the open space designation, all the remaining development rights on the property would be extinguished.”

Without the remaining development rights, the property has been appraised at around $720,000 and Trust Montana, which will hold the farm’s lease, is seeking $310,000 in funding from the Open Space Bond. As written upon approval by voters, the bond allows funding to be used to preserve agriculture.

Trust Montana would also use donations and fundraising to cover the remaining cost of purchasing the 8-acre farm.

Dawn Conklin, the executive director of Trust Montana, said the farm would provide 40,000 pounds of food annually and remain affordable to community farmers while preserving open space. It would also host a farm stand that provides local food while maintaining 1 acre of riparian habitat.

“We believe in partnerships that leverage resources and expand the capacity to achieve our vision,” said Conklin. “We think this partnership will help the city achieve its goals as well. Together, we will work toward the preservation of a farm, helping keep Missoula the Garden City.”

While using a community land trust to preserve farmland isn’t new, the Corner Farm Open Space Project would be the first of its kind in Montana. And with development pressure high, advocates believe the project is a good match for public funding.

Conklin said that only 8% of the land in Missoula County is suitable for agriculture, given the array of soil types. The Montana Department of Revenue suggests that more than 50,000 acres of productive agricultural land in Missoula County has already been converted to other uses.

“Corner Farm was designed for public benefit,” said Conklin. “This project was designed with painstaking care to maximize 80% of the property for public benefits.”

Zac Covington, the city’s open space program manager, said the request for $310,000 in funding from the Open Space Bond places the public’s cost at around $38,000 per acre for preservation. In comparison, he said, the city’s use of funding to preserve Garden City Harvest came in at $61,000 per acre.

“That was definitely a higher cost per acre,” he said. “Any time agricultural land is located that close to developed areas and infrastructure, it’s going to cost a lot more.”

Covington said funding from the Open Space Bond has been used to preserve other agricultural land in the Missoula Valley including the Ten Spoon property, Garden City Harvest and the Oxbow Cattle Co. ranch.

Aside from preserving farmland, the city has allocated Open Space funding for other projects outside city limits including Kelly Island, the Bluebird project in the North Hills and Mount Sentinel, among others.

“Because (Corner Farm) is so much centered in this urban area planning boundary, the county wasn’t interested and let us know they felt like it was a city project,” Covington said. “There’s been quite a few other city open space projects in the unincorporated area without utilizing county funds.”

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