Sonora Union High School District Board President Jeanie Smith said it is too soon to speculate whether a land exchange proposed by Sonora-based nonprofit organization The Park Foundation — for a more than 22-acre property adjacent to Sonora High School for the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch — will come to fruition, but Park Foundation President Ron Jacobs asserted that the swap would alleviate a host of problems faced by the district.

“It’s brand new this concept of land exchange. I think we are willing to look at it, but there are still many things to be considered,” Smith said.

The Wildcat Ranch has not been declared surplus property, but a land exchange would not require it to be declared surplus, she said.

The Sonora Union High School District Board of Trustees was presented with a letter from The Park Foundation Tuesday evening during its scheduled meeting, she said, which included a non-binding agreement to begin negotiations.

The offer to enter into the negotiations ends 60 days after the letter was submitted on April 17.

“What the board decides in 60 days to sign that document is just that simple,” Smith said. “It doesn't mean we are leaning toward it, it doesn't mean we are rejecting it if we choose to sign that document to talk.”

The properties extend from the north end of Sonora High School and south to Snell Street, behind the school’s Dunlavy Field. The western end of the properties extends to Snell Street, which eventually turns into Racetrack Road.

One parcel includes 19.67 acres, the other 2.7 acres. The valuation on tax rolls of the larger property was $73,914, and the smaller property $25,642.

Both are zoned as vacant properties. The larger piece includes a home built in 1954 and is identified as Building Class D or a structure in a state of deterioration or neglect. The information lists the home as two stories, with four bedrooms and three full bathrooms.

The mailing address associated with the property is on the 14500 block of Lake Vista Drive in East Sonora, near Phoenix Lake.

The property is identified as owned by Stephen Wilson and the estate of Genette Wilson.

The Park Foundation previously pitched a recreation facility to an advisory committee created by the school district board to suggest what to do with Wildcat Ranch and Sonora Dome.

The foundation described a state-of-the-art recreation facility at the Wildcat Ranch to include to include a stadium, two indoor sports facilities, a disc golf course, tennis courts, sports fields, running trails, food purveyors and trees on more than 100 acres.

The ranch property has been valued by a Sonora appraisal company at $820,000.
Park Foundation President Ron Jacobs said the Wildcat Ranch was previously identified for the park development project when the school board announced it was considering selling the property.

About 15 acres of the 137-acre property is utilized by the district for the school’s agriculture program.

During discussions with the district, he said, it was determined that the district faced multiple financial challenges to develop the site or provide transportation for students enrolled in an agriculture program held there.

“Chief among these challenges is the distance from their downtown campus and the difficulty and expense involved with transporting students to the site,” he said. “At that point we started looking for properties in close proximity that would serve the needs of SHS Ag as well as accommodate campus growth in the future.”

During that process, he said, the parcels colloquially known as the “Wilson property” came to their attention.

Smith said the district was not aware the properties were for sale.

Jacobs said the asking price for the Wilson property has not been determined but it’s expected that they would pay “fair market value.”

Any potential land exchange for the Wildcat Ranch and Wilson property would likely include a “cash payment element,” Smith said, due to the vast difference in appraisal values for the sites.

Jacobs also acknowledged that a cash payment would “balance the higher value of the Wards Ferry property relative to the market values expected for the Wilson properties.”

Because the actual values of the properties have not been determined, a value for a potential cash payment is not known.

“The Park Foundation is optimistic and confident that a fair negotiation will take place culminating in a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said.

Jacobs said the benefits to the district would be manifold.

The accessibility of the property notwithstanding, the actual amount of the land is better suited to Sonora High School, he said. The land would also allow for future expansion of the school campus, he said.

According to the City of Sonora Municipal Code, livestock cannot run “at large” and cannot trespass onto public property. A feature of developing the agriculture program at Sonora High School has been the care of large livestock such as cows.

On the Wildcat Ranch property, he said, the cross country course currently used by the Sonora High School team would still be maintained and would be available for the public. Available cash from the land exchange could also go to improve Sonora High School infrastructure, Jacobs said.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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