Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Wanted: One billionaire conservationist for four miles of untouched Santa Barbara coastline. Needs $200 million and willingness to part with the most valuable element of the properties—their development rights.

That's the dream buyer of three adjacent ranches, totaling 2,214 acres just west of Santa Barbara, that have hit the market simultaneously. The listing agent is on the hunt for someone with the desire—and deep pockets—to preserve the historic coastline.

"It's a very small pool of buyers," said Jody Neal, a ranch and land specialist at Montecito-based brokerage Kerry Mormann & Associates, a division of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services. "What we're looking for is that one person who can recognize the historic value and beauty of this place on its own."

Such a purchaser would ideally donate or sell conservation easements—effectively their development rights over the properties—to a conservation organization. According to Neal, the move would go a long way toward appeasing the local community, which has historically been voracious in its opposition to coastal developments.

Still, such a gift could represent as much as 60 percent of the value of the properties, according to Alex Size, Santa Barbara County program manager for the Trust for Public Land. Finding someone willing to spend $200 million on a property and then immediately forfeit $120 million of its value is a tough sell, even after accounting for the associated tax benefits of any such donation (and counting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie among your grateful neighbors). 

No wonder then that the request for conservation isn't a deal breaker for the sellers, who will also listen to offers for each individual property. 

Closest to Santa Barbara lies South Naples, which is listed at $39.9 million. The coastal bluff top has no habitable structures, but thanks to the efforts of a 19th century developer who won a right to build a town there in 1888, its 200 level acres are legally ripe for development. Budding developers beware, however: The current owner, Standard Portfolios Asset Management, has long been stymied on that front because of local opposition.

Next comes the Dos Pueblos ranch (aka the Royal Ranco), where Santa Barbara was "discovered" in 1542 by Juan Cabrillo, the first European explorer to navigate the California coast. In 2009 the Schulte family listed it for $24 million and subsequently sold the roughly 2,000 acres of property that lay north of Highway 101. Now comes the rest (minus a small cutout that contains the birthplace of the California farmed orchid industry, still in use today).

The main abode was built in the 1920s and has five bedrooms and seven bathrooms. Spread across the property's 214 acres, including unrestricted beach access, stand another eight homes, plus barns, trailers, and avocado trees. It also has a working abalone farm, for those with a taste for seafood. Yours for $50 million.

Furthest north lies Las Varas, which stretches over 1,800 acres and includes two miles of private unspoiled sandy beach, orchards, seven homes, and a lighted rodeo arena. A private lake overlooks the whole $108 million property, which is being sold by descendants of the California oil magnate Edward Laurence Doheny. Taken alone, it's one of the world's most expensive residential properties on the market now.

The combined $198 million asking price would be a record for the Central Coast, which saw a more remote 24,000-acre ranch with nine miles of coastline sell for $135 million in 2007. A 60-acre ranch just east of South Naples sold for $20 million that same year.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to own some truly pristine California coastline," Neal said. "It's a time capsule."

To contact the author of this story: Tom Metcalf in San Francisco at tmetcalf7@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Tarmy at jtarmy@bloomberg.net, Justin Ocean

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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