Weston Cook wanted to leave the city behind and build a country home with plenty of elbow room for his children to roam. He and four other families bought 216 acres south of Brentwood five years ago, but hit a wall of opposition as conservationists and wildlife regulators balked at letting five homes sprawl over so much prime habitat for rare frogs, salamanders and other grassland survivors.
BRENTWOOD, Calif. Weston Cook wanted to leave the city behind and build a country home with plenty of elbow room for his children to roam.
Cook and four other families with a similar goal found their dream spot in a hidden valley south of Brentwood.
They bought 216 acres five years ago, but hit a wall of opposition as conservationists and wildlife regulators balked at letting five homes sprawl over so much prime habitat for rare frogs, salamanders and other grassland survivors.
In an unusual compromise announced Tuesday, the families get approval for five homes, and have agreed to donate 90 percent of their land to the East Bay Regional Park District for open space between the new Cowell Ranch State Park and the Roddy Ranch Open Space.
The new public parkland provides a key link in a 60-mile regional trail that wraps nearly all the way around Mount Diablo and its foothills.
Conservationists called the agreement for 196 acres of open space a gem for recreation and habitat protection.
Landowners agreed, and say they feel like winners for being able to live in a scenic valley.
"We don't really lose because we get to build our homes," Cook said at a press conference to announce the deal. "The public gets most of the property, and it will be protected for us to enjoy, too."
No other minor subdivision in county history has produced such a large dedication of open space, said Seth Adams, land programs manager for Save Mount Diablo.
The conservation group opposed the original Fox Ridge Manor subdivision plan but later endorsed the compromise brokered by the Contra Costa County Community Development Department.
The deadline to challenge the county-approved deal expired last month.
Adams called the land a "hot spot" for protected wildlife species.
A mile-long stretch of Briones Valley Creek provides ideal breeding conditions for tiger salamanders and red-legged frogs, both protected species.
When the creek dries out in summer, the animals retreat to ground squirrel burrows and lay low until the fall rains come.
The acquisition brings conservation and park organizations tantalizingly close to completion of a 60-mile corridor of open space around Mount Diablo.
Two land gaps remain. The new Brentwood land agreement shrinks one gap by a mile, leaving only about a third of a mile more to obtain to connect the Cowell Ranch State Park to the Roddy Ranch Open Space.
The second small gap separates Mount Diablo State Park and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.
Biologists say unbroken cooridors of open space are vital to helping wildlife thrive and survive amid encroaching suburban development.
The new open space means wildlife will be able to move more freely, improving survival odds. Hikers also will be able to move more freely.
Cook and another of the landowners, Dan Parscal, a Brentwood real estate broker, said the initial fuss over the rare wildlife surprised them.
"There were some misunderstandings," Cook said, "but we worked things out for the benefit of everyone and the public."
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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News