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The South Arkansas River flows through the city of Salida’s Vandaveer Ranch property. The NRCDC has proposed turning this land (10-12 acres) into a nature park, in part because the floodplain prevents the land from being developed (photo by Joe Stone).

The board of the Salida Natural Resource Center Development Corporation met on Wednesday, March 13, to review outstanding items related to its recent sale of the U.S. Forest Service building and 48.5 acres of land on the south side of U.S. Highway 50. It closed the $3.8 million deal with Bearcreek Partnership LLC Feb. 23.

“The financial changes are major,” said NRCDC Treasurer Jim McConaghy. “Revenue and payment account stands at just over $39,300, and the operating maintenance account is just over $33,300. Obviously, we’ve sold the building and property and paid off the loan to High Country Bank. That takes our surplus cash account down to $1,818, and our certificate of deposit is gone because the reason we held it was as security on the loan payments. Our total cash available as of February is $74,428.”

NRCDC President Ron Mazzeo cautioned that the NRCDC anticipates future payments. During 2017 it paid the federal government $54,409 in taxes and paid 2018 taxes to the buyer of the recently sold property, money that may or may not be recovered.

“We have back rent due from the Forest Service building, and we have about $25,000 due from Bearcreek for the solar panels. That could be $96,000 of additional income above the $74,000 available cash.”

The recent sale closes a chapter in the saga that has been the Vandaveer property. The board of the NRCDC says its continuing actions demonstrate its commitment to meet its promise to the community: sell enough property to pay off the bank note on the property, clean up the details and return the remaining land to the citizens of Salida.

Mazzeo said that Lot 4, an 8.3-acre parcel of the Vandaveer property, is under contract for $415,600 to Allan Ojala. It could take up to 180 days before that sale closes.

“We may or may not be the entity doing the closing. It just depends upon how quickly we can get the other items cleared up. The biggest is the access to the land on the north side of the South Arkansas River on Palmer Street so we can set up the nature park.”

Mazzeo declined to comment on Bearcreek LLC, the entity behind the large purchase that allowed the NRCDC to pay off the bank loan. “It’s out of our control; it’s city zoning and development. (They) will have to follow those guidelines.”

Asked whether the NRCDC would be involved in designating whether any of the remaining 95 acres of the Vandaveer still in NRCDC control could become affordable or low-income housing, Mazzeo deferred the question.

“The remaining land hasn’t been sub-divided. It is zoned to be used for all these uses. It will be the city’s responsibility, with citizens, to decide that,” said Mazzeo. “Recently, council has pushed for a certain percentage of housing to be for affordable housing. The good news now is the land is back to the way it should be – not encumbered by a loan. Now the citizens can have a say in what happens with it and how it is used.”

The NRCDC plans a joint work session with Salida City Council at 6 p.m. Monday, March 19, to discuss recent activity and remaining work items. Their agenda includes opening the Palmer Street access to the Vandaveer property, getting a conservation easement for the flood plain along the river for a nature park and creating the park.

McConaghy pointed out the superior financial position in which the NRCDC and the city find themselves. According to the NRCDC, the original Vandaveer purchase of around $3 million included a $1 million water value, which the city stripped from the land. “This piece was written off as a loss, but the fact is that because of the land we can now return to the city, we’re coming out about $1 million ahead.”

“There is a responsibility to protect whatever is there, so that as this comes back to the city, the citizens can decide what to do with it,” said Francie Bomer, who attended the session. “If it’s affordable housing, if it’s utilities crossing the highway, that’s the responsible thing to do.”

According to McConaghy, the expectation is that when the NRCDC returns the remaining assets, that will be the end of the organization. “Then the city has to assume the responsibility. It would be wise to put the cash accounts in escrow for that purpose, but we can’t demand. We can only request or ask for that consideration.”