White Flag

Developer Mark Kelton, right, and builder Ray Harrod had envisioned 200 homes on the 860-acre Ferrini Ranch property.

A developer wanted to make money by building homes off Highway 68. Now he’s going to make money by not building there.

The Ferrini Ranch project was supposed to introduce about 200 new homes to an area of oak-studded hillsides and open expanses of grassland. Mark Kelton, a Southern California developer, fought for years to get the plan approved, succeeding in 2014 when the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 vote in his favor. After that, he also defeated or settled three lawsuits against the project. Opponents said the development would worsen traffic, ruin views, strain the water system and put people in proximity to wildfire hazard.

Giving up on the project, Kelton has cut a deal to sell his hard-earned development rights to the Ag Land Trust, a Salinas nonprofit devoted to “the preservation and protection of all productive and important agricultural, open space and historical lands in Monterey County,” according to the group’s website.

The Ag Land Trust will pay Kelton about $10 million, even though the value of the easement is estimated at $18.5 million. Kelton agreed to a “bargain sale,” says Marc Del Piero, a former county supervisor who serves on the Ag Land Trust’s board.

The money for the deal comes from the state’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program, which is funded in part by businesses with higher-than-allowed levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

LandWatch, a nonprofit that fights to prevent development on open land, marked the deal as a win. “We applaud Mark Kelton’s decision to sell the development rights below market price and establish a conservation legacy that will last forever,“ Executive Director Michael DeLapa writes.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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