Huge San Jose ranch may be preserved as parklands and nature habitat: new deal

Huge San Jose ranch may be preserved as parklands and nature habitat: new deal

SAN JOSE — A huge ranch in south San Jose may be preserved as open space and a natural habitat if multiple government entities succeed in a quest to buy the property’s thousands of acres, public documents show.

A deal has emerged for the purchase of the Richmond Ranch property, consisting of 3,694 acres of pristine hills, vales and fields in southeast San Jose.

The outlines of multiple proposals as part of an endeavor to bring the property under the control of two South Bay public agencies are coming to light in the wake of the disclosure that a private real estate firm’s deal to buy the ranch collapsed several weeks ago.

The eventual owners of the property along San Felipe Road in San Jose would be the Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department and the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, according to staff memos that the two public agencies have officially posted.

Under the latest plan, The Conservation Fund, an environmental nonprofit with a nationwide reach, has struck a deal to purchase the acreage along San Felipe Road in San Jose from affiliates of China-based Z&L Properties.

“The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit conservation organization with a proven track record of collaborating with multiple partners, including public agencies, was recently able to negotiate a purchase agreement for the Richmond Ranch,” Don Rocha, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, wrote in a memo prepared for the Jan. 23 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors.

The negotiated purchase price for the ranch is $16 million, according to a document that was posted on Sept. 28 by the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency.

The Conservation Fund, after gaining ownership of the vast ranchland, has agreed to sell the entire ranch in three big chunks through subsequent separate real estate transactions to Santa Clara County’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Habitat Agency, multiple county documents show.

Ultimately, the county parks department would own approximately 1,500 acres and the Habitat Agency, through one purchase this year and a second purchase next year, would own roughly 2,100 acres.

In 2017, Z&L paid $25 million to buy Richmond Ranch. Z&L has said little if anything about what it had planned for the huge ranch — and the company doesn’t appear to have undertaken any changes of note on the property.

The property was a one-time cattle ranch and is zoned for agricultural uses.

Z&L might endure a loss as a result of the negotiated deal with The Conservation Fund, public documents indicate.

“The likely appraised value of (Richmond Ranch) is at a minimum $36 million, based on current comparable sales in the area, including Lakeside Ranch, Baird Ranch, Tilton Ranch and O’Connell Ranch,” the Habitat Agency report stated.

Z&L has been attempting to disassemble its Bay Area real estate empire. Despite numerous proposals, Z&L has managed to finish just one project, a double-tower residential high-rise at 188 West St. James Street in downtown San Jose. Z&L is attempting to sell the two towers. One high-rise is partly occupied and the other is empty.

Other downtown San Jose projects, including two housing high-rises next to a historic church and a residential tower proposed for an old Greyhound terminal, languish and have yet to be built.

The real estate firm’s failures in the Bay Area may have intensified the pressure on Z&L Properties to craft a deal for the Richmond Ranch site – even if the terms might not be favorable for the struggling real estate firm — according to public records.

“The sellers need to sell the Property immediately for legal and financial reasons,” Robin Kohn, senior real estate officer with the Santa Clara Valley Habitat Agency, wrote in the report.

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The Richmond Ranch site has been described as a property where people could experience a lifestyle akin to the rural California of the 19th century, according to a brochure circulated in 2017 by The Chickering Co. Inc., a real estate brokerage specializing in ranch and recreational properties.

For decades, the ranch was owned by members of the Richmond family. The Richmond Ranch parcels were bought in the 1920s and 1930s by Edmund Richmond, one of the principal owners of San Jose-based Richmond-Chase Co., which became one of the nation’s largest canning and dried fruit companies.

One of the ranch houses on the property dates back to 1878, the Chickering Co. brochure says.

“Rolling oak-studded hills, secluded meadows and views of Mount Hamilton, San Jose and the Bay Area,” Chickering Co. stated in the sales brochure, “provide the perfect setting for hiking, biking, horseback riding, hunting, camping and connecting with a rich and unspoiled California landscape.”

The pending purchase of the property by the government agencies also creates a dramatic new opportunity for public use of the ranchlands.

The upcoming acquisitions would “provide regional trail connectivity, public access, protection and preservation of habitat, critical connectivity for wildlife, expansion and connectivity of protected open space areas, and ultimately enhance climate change resiliency,” the county parks staff memo states.