Montana Heritage Commission, Madison County closer to finalizing land transaction

At its Dec. 12 meeting, the Montana Heritage Commission (MHC) made the motion to continue in the sales process of the land transaction between itself and Madison County. A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 10 at the Rehearsal Hall in Virginia City at 1 p.m.

“Once the information is gathered from the public, the Montana Heritage Commission will decide if it wants to continue in the sales process with the final step being final approval from the state land board,” Elijah Allen, MHC director of operations, said following the meeting.

The potential land sale to Madison County is a .689 acres parcel of land located in Block 156, lots 1-12. These lots run from the lowest to highest numbers between Broadway and Van Buren Streets in Virginia City. Montana state statute (77-2-351) allows the State of Montana to sell or transfer public property to a public entity without a formal bid process. The sale price has not been determined yet, according to Allen and Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz. It will be determined once the land is appraised and the issue goes before the state land board.

“It’s a very lengthy process, but it looks good,” Schulz said of the process so far. He said they may not finalize the sale until May or June. “We don’t yet know what it will cost or if we can afford it.”

The Madison County Commissioners have been pursuing purchase of the land for more than a year in order to use it for part of the proposed courthouse annex project. The annex will be located across Wallace Street from the courthouse. The 12 lots will be used for parking behind the annex.

The MHC last discussed the matter at an Aug. 29 public meeting and hearing to determine the historic and non-historic value of the property.

During the meeting, it was noted that a few historic structures sat on the lots early on in Virginia City history. Allen said an archeological survey of the property was done years ago and the MHC has contracted with archeologist to survey it again. Virginia City resident and former MHC curator, John Ellingsen said the three structures that sat on the lots in and around 1884 did not seem to be of any significant historic value. He also provided maps and photos of the area in 1900.

For the archaeological services, Madison County and the commission split the cost at $2,500 each.

MHC board member and Cameron resident, Barbie Durham attested to the fact that this space is much needed and would be utilized by tourists and visitors as well as county employees. This varied use would add to the local economy with more parking and access to downtown businesses, especially during busy summer months. The lots, which are sandwiched between two county parcels, will be appraised at the time of sale. The monies from the sale will go into a trust account to preserve and protect other historic properties in Virginia City and Nevada City. The MHC has not proposed any preservation covenants for the property for sale, but it will be subject to review of the Virginia City design review ordinances.

Following the MHC meeting on June 15, 2013, the members of the sales committee toured and inspected the vacant lots.

The MHC was formed in 1997 after the Montana legislature passed two bills authorizing the purchase of the Bovey Restoration properties in Virginia City and Nevada City. The legislature then also created the MHC to manage these properties in a manner that protects them and encourages economic independence. The commission’s role includes ensuring that the treatment of all historic buildings meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation and that the treatment of all artifacts meets treatment and curation standards established by the American Association of Museums. The commission must also ensure the interpretation is conducted according to standards established by the National Association for Interpretation.

Currently, the commission manages the properties in Virginia City and Nevada City, as well as Reeder’s Alley in Helena.

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