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A grass- and oak-covered hillside that forms the scenic backdrop for the city of Sonoma would be preserved as open space under an agreement to purchase the historic Montini dairy, once part of Gen. Mariano Vallejo's original ranch.

"It is probably the most important land acquisition in modern city history and will have a profound effect on the ambiance of Sonoma for generations," said Mayor Larry Barnett. The prospect of that hillside "getting dotted with housing has always made us nervous."

The purchasing parties would include the city, the county Open Space District and the Coastal Conservancy.

The 157-acre Montini Ranch is covered in grass and oaks, a mostly hilly and rocky landscape that abuts the seven-acre Sonoma State Historic Park and Vallejo home.

The purchase price, after nearly four years of negotiations, would be $13.75 million. The deal, which was approved July 6 by the Sonoma City Council, will be on the agenda of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 2.

The county's Agriculture Preservation and Open Space District would pay $11.35 million, the city of Sonoma $1.15 million and the Coastal Conservancy $1.25 million.

The acquisition is considered so important to Sonoma that the City Council set aside $1 million as its share of the purchase price three years ago.

"The hillside is something that pretty much everyone in the Sonoma Valley looks at every day," said Dave Goodison, Sonoma planning administrator. "Just like preserving the buildings downtown, preserving the hillside is as important to Sonoma's historic feel."

Don Monahan, superintendent of the Diablo Vista state parks division, said he believes that the property will eventually become part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

"Since it does border our property, it does make sense that at some point in time we work with open space to operate it and have it become part of the Vallejo home," Monahan said.

It would be the latest in a string of large land purchases for preservation. The Open Space District in the past two years has spent $18 million for Tolay Lake ranch off Lakeville Highway, $20.8 million to add land to the Sonoma Coast State Beach and $9.1 million for the historic Beltane Ranch in Sonoma Valley.

The district has spent $168.7 million to preserve 69,573 acres since it was created in 1990. Funding comes from a quarter-cent sales tax, which this year is expected to generate about $17 million.

The Montini Ranch was originally 273 acres. It was bought from Vallejo's daughter in 1936 by William and Annie Montini, who moved to the Sonoma Valley in the early 1900s.

It had been a working dairy ranch until 1970, said Bill Montini, one of five grandchildren.

Open Space District spokeswoman Maureen Middlebrook said the ranch is an attractive purchase.

"There are the natural resources up on the hill and a flat parcel that can provide passive recreation, it is right there for people to enjoy and enjoy soon, and we have that vista protected forever," Middlebrook said.

The deal involves the outright purchase of 89 acres and a conservation easement over another 58 acres, which would remain in the Montini family and allow for a single-family home.

The purchase includes 26 acres that are already within the Sonoma city limits. The city of Sonoma would be deeded nine acres for trails and some recreation.

Bill Montini said the heirs decided to sell the ranch after the death four years ago of Annie Montini, largely because of the burden of property and inheritance taxes.

As part of the breakup of the ranch, a parcel of almost five acres was already sold to the O'Brien Group for 25 homes. Bill Montini said he separately owns 31 adjacent acres that were part of the ranch and includes the original ranch house.