Open space adds 29-acre Curreri site

Sonoma Valley’s open spaces are about to expand. The county’s Board of Supervisors appears ready to approve the purchase of 29 acres along Highway 12 in Glen Ellen as an addition to the county’s regional parks.

Known as the Curreri property, it is land owned by the Curreri family. The entire property consists of a little over 35 acres, but the family will retain ownership of roughly six acres for their personal use.

“We are thrilled to be able to add such a crucial piece of land to Sonoma Valley Regional Park, with its importance to wildlife movement, the view-shed and its significant beauty,” said Regional Parks director Caryl Hart.

Sonoma Park officials said the acquisition was important since the land was “highly vulnerable to estate and vineyard development.”

“The threat to this landscape being developed is real,” wrote Sheri Cardo of the Sonoma Land Trust in a prepared statement. “The Curreri property offers panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, the Mayacamas Range, and San Pablo and San Francisco bays. It also harbors iconic oak woodlands, as well as grasslands, a seasonal wetland and a year-round spring-fed pond.”

According to Paul Curreri, his father Norman bought the land in 1948.

“He was a city-boy. Born in New York and moved out to San Francisco when he was 16,” said Paul. “He worked as circulation manager for the old San Francisco Examiner, but between 1926-1930 he was a professional bantam-weight boxer.”

Curreri said his Sicilian family immigrated to America, where his grandmother made a dollar a day as a seamstress during the Great Depression. His father’s uncle was one-time World Light-Weight/Featherweight boxing champion Johnny Dundee. His father lost an eye due to boxing, but managed to enlist in the Army Air-Corps as a calisthenics instructor during World War II.

“My grandmother was the one who started buying property out here in Sonoma during the 1940s,” said Curreri. “My dad followed her lead and purchased the land where I eventually grew up.”

The nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust has preserved nearly 48,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land since its inception in 1976. The total purchase price for the Curreri property is more than $1.1 million, with the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District contributing more than $500,000 for the conservation easement. Additional contributors to the purchase of the property include a donation of $573,000 from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Regional Parks Department is asking the District for a little over $77,600 to cover master-planning of the park expansion and initial public access, but will also donate $10,000 to the acquisition.

“For my family, this is a legacy issue,” said Paul Curreri, who said he explored the property as a child. “Our land is really more valuable as a place where children can connect with nature and wildlife can continue to roam.”

The Curreri property sits in the “pinch point” of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which stretches east to west across Sonoma Valley. According to Trust officials, the land connects over 9,000 acres of protected wildlife habitat in the Mayacamas and on Sonoma Mountain. Officials described the pinch point as the portion of the park “narrowed considerably due to the combined influences of development and geography” and “restricting where animals like mountain lion, bear, fox, and bobcat” and others live.

“The importance of this acquisition belies its smaller acreage,” said John McCaull, Sonoma Land Trust project manager. “Like a puzzle, sometimes it is the smaller pieces that make everything come together.”

The acquisition is contingent on approval by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. The board will make final decisions today, Tuesday, Oct. 21, including amending the County’s general plan and approving zoning changes to allow for expansion of Sonoma Valley Regional Park. The Board must also establish zoning for six acres of land that will include the existing structures the Curreri family. According to McCaull, the six acres are zoned rural-residential and will be used for Paul Curreri to build a family home.

Maureen Middlebrook, of the open space district, said she anticipated no problems getting approval from the Supervisors. This confidence was supported by comments from 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin.

“This great collaboration among our County agencies and Sonoma Land Trust will benefit both wildlife and park users, and help retain the beauty of Sonoma Valley for generations to come” said Gorin, who also serves on the open space district’s board.

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