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MALT closes $2.7 million deal to preserve farmland

The historic 585-acre Dolcini Ranch will remain undeveloped following a deal involving landowners, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and the federal government.

MALT announced Monday it paid $2.7 million for the development rights for the land, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Conservation Service providing $745,000 for the project. Other funds were raised from MALT members and supporters.

"The area in which this ranch is located is likely to be subject to development pressures in the very near future," said MALT Executive Director Robert Berner. "We are extremely happy to help protect the natural resources on the property while providing a long-term opportunity for the Dolcini family to continue its agricultural operations."

MALT pays property owners for the development rights to their land. The land can be used for agriculture after the trust acquires rights, but it can't be subdivided. The restriction stays with the land when it is passed on by inheritance or sale.

Because of its location near Petaluma and its short commuting distance to central Marin, the ranch could have been subject to significant development, Berner said.

Under the deal, the Dolcinis will retain a development right to improve the existing homestead, but all other development rights go to MALT and the property will be permanently protected from subdivision or non-agricultural uses.

Situated at the intersection of Hicks Valley Road and Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, the property has been in the ownership of the same family for nearly a century. A vintage Victorian-era white farmhouse built of redwood in the late 1800s and a cluster of picturesque red dairy and hay barns give the ranch a bucolic aura.

Arnold Dolcini Sr. started a dairy at the ranch in 1918, and the family has had an agricultural operation there ever since. In 1973, the ranch was inherited by seven Dolcini siblings from their father.

Kitty Dolcini and her brother Doug will use the proceeds of the easement sale to MALT to buy out their five brothers and sisters and continue various agricultural businesses on the site, according to MALT. A Jersey dairy until 2000, the property now supports beef cattle and a small nursery. A 25-acre field is leased to a local farmer who grows organic vegetables.

"The Dolcini ranch has deep roots in Marin County agriculture, and this easement will help protect a historic family legacy in the midst of the San Francisco Bay region," said Ed Burton, state conservationist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in California.

Contact Mark Prado via e-mail at mprado@marinij.com