After almost a decade of controversy, local government officials joined Bermant Development Company yesterday in dedicating approximately 200 acres of open space to be permanently preserved in the San Marcos Foothills.

The foothills – which have been the focus of many local conservation efforts for seven years -are home to a wide variety of natural environments unique to Santa Barbara County such as grasslands, coastal sage, savanna and seasonal creeks. Many local and national organizations, like the Trust for Public Land and BDC, have been working alongside the county government in an effort to implement formal conservation efforts for the area.

BDC’s pledge to allocate 90 percent of a 377-acre land parcel the company owns in the San Marcos Foothills, about five miles away from downtown Goleta. According to former 2nd District Supervisor for the County of Santa Barbara Susan Rose, a donation of an additional 100 acres is in negotiations.

Rose said the property was formally acquired for conservation purposes through a donation from Santa Barbara Foothills LLC – a corporation managed by Jeff Bermant, the owner/president of BDC. The land has an estimated worth of $20 million.

Bermant said the land could have been used for development of houses, condominiums, or recreational facilities, but it was important to BDC to give back to Santa Barbara.

“I had a vision of giving land to the community,” Bermant said. “I don’t have millions and millions of dollars to give away, but I am rich in land.”

According to a press release, Santa Barbara County Parks will manage the property for recreational activities such as hiking, bird watching, picnicking and habitat protection. Santa Barbara Foothills LCC and BDC will build houses in surrounding areas, but 200 acres is permanently preserved, Bermant said.

According to Environmental Defense Center member Linda Crop, several proposals to develop the land into residential communities were proposed in 1980, 1990, 1994 and 1998. However, Santa Barbara County approved the area for preservation in November 2005 – after public demands to designate the area for conservation intensified, Crop said.

Crop said the Trust worked closely with many community organizations, such as Surfrider Foundation, Santa Barbara Audubon Society, Santa Barbara Sierra Club and the UCSB Environmental Affairs Board to preserve the San Marcos Foothills.

Rose also said efforts to permanently preserve the land have been the work of the entire Santa Barbara community.

“We have come a long way; we have a lot to celebrate,” Crop said.