EL CERRITO -- The City Council on Tuesday approved an application for a federal grant of up to $250,000 to purchase an 8-acre hillside property that would link two larger pieces of public open space for hiking and other recreational uses.

The land, known as the Madera property, was purchased in August for $475,000 from a private owner by the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, which will hold it until December, when El Cerrito plans to buy it with grant money, private donations and bond funding.

The grant from Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will cover half the cost if approved, will require a direct match from money raised through other sources.

The Trust for Public Land has also applied for an $80,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation on behalf of the city, and the private El Cerrito Open Space campaign has raised more than $28,000, with a goal of $100,000 by December, according to campaign Vice President Dave Weinstein.

Any shortfall from the grant and private fundraising campaigns will have to come out of El Cerrito's allocation from Measure WW, the 2008 bond measure for acquisition of parks and open space in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The federal grant requires that the Madera property, plus the two Hillside Natural Area parcels that it connects, remain open space "in perpetuity."

Councilman Greg Lyman expressed concern that the designation might make it difficult to erect structures on the property, such as a recreational clubhouse or a small police substation.

"'In perpetuity' is a very serious term," Lyman said. "Other councils (in the future) won't get a chance to reverse this easily."

In response, the council agreed to submit a revised map with the grant application reserving a couple of parcels, including one at the end of Snowden Avenue in the northern Hillside Natural Area, for structures for recreational or security uses.

Brendan Moriarty, of the Trust for Public Land, assured the council that such a revision wouldn't weaken the application.

"Designating one or two places for recreational improvements without taking out significant property entirely would be fine," Moriarty said.

The vote to proceed with the application was 4-0, with Mayor Pro Tem Rebecca Benassini absent.

Earlier in the evening, interim Public Works Director Yvetteh Ortiz announced that El Cerrito received the 2012 Most Improved Roads Award from the Oakland-based Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The city had a pavement condition index of 84 in 2012, an 11-point improvement over 2011, according to the MTC.

Ortiz attributed the improvement to the passage of Measure A in 2008, which authorized a half-cent sales tax for street repaving and upgrades.