In Mono County, affordable housing is rare and the space to build it rarer. As a result, developing housing projects requires some creative thinking.
Mono County tasked consultant (and former Inyo County Administrative Officer) Kevin Carunchio with reviewing a list of county-owned land parcels to “see what jumps out at you” and what possibilities those parcels may present. Members of county government, including members of the Board of Supervisors, later expressed interest in reviewing the parcels for potential housing opportunities.
On Tuesday, September 9, at the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting, Carunchio presented his findings and the options available for county land.
Before getting in to the presentation, Carunchio warned that there was no “silver bullet” or “golden egg” to be found, no perfect solution that jumps right out within the parcel inventory.
Very few, if any, of the parcels, he said, allow for immediate housing or economic development options, and current land use constraints complicate what can be done with many of them.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t options, however.
Carunchio gave a few caveats about the information on hand: most parcels were viewed remotely via ParcelViewer with only incidental site visits, no appraisals or economic analysis was conducted, there were no title reports and limited deed review with county ownership presumed but not guaranteed, and there was no comprehensive policy in place for managing county property.
Some parcels, he said, seemed perfect, only to have later review reveal the land to be in use (i.e. a cemetery) or were under another entity’s jurisdiction.
Based on his review, Mono County owns 193 parcels encompassing a total of 1,598 acres of land.
737 acres, equivalent to roughly 46% of the total acreage, is designated as open space with an additional 220 acres (14%) zoned for agricultural uses.
Of the remaining land, 95 acres are “mostly developed”, defined by Carunchio as public facilities, county parks etc.
301 acres are “partially developed/disturbed,” meaning not all of the land in the parcel is utilized.
Which leaves about 77 acres open for development possibilites, slighly less than 5% of county-owned land.
District 3 (Gardner) is home to the majority of county land holdings, while District 2 (Duggan) possesses the 77 acres of development opportunity. District 4 (Peters) is home to the majority of the partially developed land
Districts 1 and 5 (Mammoth Lakes) are the smallest districts
and have the least available space of any district.
“It’s easy to say why we can’t do something or why something might be unworkable,” Carunchio said of the possibilities, before asking the Supervisors to “just remember the ability of perseverance.”
Carunchio presented six ideas to the Supervisors in all.
First up were a number of parcels along Bodie Road, in the vicinity of the Boadmis Masonic Road junction, totaling 15.35 acres.
The parcels in question are apparently in the receivership of the Mono County Superior Court and are not owned by the County outright.
“Out of all public entities, it seems to me that the Court is least suited to manage any kind of property holdings,” Carunchio said, “There must be some way for the Court to divest itself [from the land].”
Those 15-odd acres, he said, are candidates for a potential land trade agreement with the State of California or Bureau of Land Management.
Given the remote location of the Bodie parcels, they are not good candidates for housing or economic development initiatives.
In order to start the land trade process, the county would need to first confirm the Court’s relationship with the parcels, acquire and appraise them, and then evaluate the best method of offloading the land.
In terms of housing options, the most feasible idea put forward by Carunchio revolved around a collection of parcels in the Mono City area near Conway Ranch.
Totalling about 1,000 acres in all, the parcels include a 171.74-acre parcel designated for Agriculture land use, a 159.44-acre parcel zoned for Resource Management, and 108 parcels clocking in just below 700 acres, that make up the Conway Ranch Easement.
The easement includes a 101 parcel, 29.43-acre subdivision including streets and potentially utilities; parcels range in size from .27-acres to .45-acres.
“Given everything the board has been through with land use in the Mono Basin,” Carunchio said, “I didn’t want to touch it.”
However, he added, if the subdivided parcels can be separated from the Conservation Easement, they would provide an ideal housing opportunity.
He gave two approaches for making that happen
1. Trade the subdivision for the 159.44-acre Resource Management parcel to the East.
2. “Buy-back” the subdivision.
Time for some quick math on the second option.
If the total cost of the easement is $10 million and the 29.43 acres represents about 4.5% of the conservation area, the value of the subdivision as a whole, in theory, is about $450,000.
Divide that total by 100 (number of parcels) and you’ve got a $4,500 minimum bid at auction to, at the very least, recoup buyback costs.
At that price, the parcels “would certainly be affordable single family housing,” Carunchio said.
Other ideas put forth had caveats making them unlikely candidates for housing development: parcels in Walker have Federal Emergency Management Administration restrictions stemming from flooding in 1997; Coleville parcels include cemetery and/or would need be rezoned from agriculture; and Hammil Valley parcels have flood concerns and would drive development for Bishop as opposed to Mono County.
To create opportunities for more housing, Carunchio gave 4 options: trade County parcels for more desirable land elsewhere, offload surplus land to developers, use tax-defaulted properties for development or land trades, and gauge interest with private property owners.
He suggested developing a comprehenisve County property management policy to ease potential complications or pursuing each opportunity individually as needed.
He also revealed that some county land may be “owned” by the Roads Department due to reports made to state authorities. If found to be true, the County could either buy back land from the department or charge them rent.
The Supervisors were generally supportive of Carunchio’s report, and urged taking action over spending time crafting new policy.
“I don’t want to get bogged down with creating a policy,” Supervisor Jennifer Kreitz said, “I want to get moving with finding solutions for this land.”
Although the Board did not make a formal decision on the matter, they urged County Administrative Officer Bob Lawton to be proactive in approaching the parcels and not wait to hire a housing coordinator.