Qualified conservation restrictions (CR’s) are voluntary legal agreements entered into between a landowner and a qualified conservation organization, such as SVT, or a government entity. CR’s allow individuals or families to retain ownership of their land, while placing limitations on development and certain uses for themselves and future owners.
CR’s are perpetual. Restricted property may be bought and sold, but the CR "runs with the land" -- it is recorded with the Registry of Deeds and is binding on both the present and future owners of that property. In Massachusetts, CR’s must be approved by a municipality and by the State to be considered valid.
Each CR is tailored to the special features of the land and to the specific wishes of the donor. In most cases, the CR prohibits development and subdivision, road building, and other uses that would damage the land. Conservation restrictions can allow for certain uses to continue, such as woodland management, farming, fishing, boating, hiking, and horseback riding.
While SVT encourages landowners to grant access to the general public for passive recreation on restricted properties, public access is not a required facet of a conservation restriction.
What kinds of lands does Sudbury Valley Trustees accept?
Most of the Conservation Restrictions held by Sudbury Valley Trustees are in place to protect sensitive natural resources or unique habitats. But CR’s can also be used to protect working farmland, historic resources, drinking water supplies, or scenic views.
What if there are structures on the property?
If structures are present on the property, such as a house, then it along with surrounding areas are generally kept separate from the protected areas. Depending on the property characteristics, the CR donor may retain the right to set aside a specified number of building lots not subject to the CR, or to build specified additional structures within a defined portion of the restricted property. Except for rights expressly given up in the CR agreement, the owner continues to use and control the land as he or she sees fit.
Is there a cost to the landowner when donating a CR?
When land trusts receive a gift of conservation land, most will seek funding for a stewardship endowment for the property, which will cover future costs such as regular monitoring and any enforcement action that may be required in the future.
The granting landowner is typically the primary source for the stewardship endowment, and other associated project costs. It seems a lot to ask, especially since the landowner is already being most generous by offering to restrict the property. However, there are necessary costs associated when SVT agrees to own and monitor conservation lands forever. Many landowners wish to support these costs and appreciate the fact that SVT is providing a valuable and on-going service by helping them fulfill their wishes for the future of their land.
In most cases, funds contributed towards these costs are themselves tax-deductible. If necessary, SVT may be able to turn to neighbors and the broader community to appeal for funds to support a project that benefits many by protecting important resources in their community.