A conservation restriction (CR) is a voluntary legal agreement that permanently limits development—and sometimes other uses—of a property that the landowner continues to own. The limitations are designed to protect the particular features or natural resource values on the land. The CR is granted to a qualified nonprofit entity like a land trust or a town conservation commission, which has the legal responsibility to enforce the terms of the restriction in perpetuity. All future owners are bound by the terms of the CR.
Landowners choose to grant a CR because they want to protect the natural and scenic features of their land, and because they want to retain ownership of their land. With a CR, a landowner can be assured that the property will be protected and cared for forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future.
There can be significant federal income and estate tax benefits, as well as local real estate tax benefits to granting a CR on your land. The Internal Revenue Service allows a federal income tax deduction if the restriction is perpetual, donated “exclusively for conservation purposes,” granted to a qualified conservation organization (or proper government entity) and supported by a “qualified appraisal.” The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the value of the conservation restriction. And, while some landowners donate a CR, others may be able to receive payment for extinguishing the development rights of the land.
The land will be appraised by a qualified appraiser to determine the full development potential value of the land as well as the value after a Conservation Restriction is applied and the development potential is removed. A parcel with very limited development potential because of factors like wetlands, steep slopes, or no road access will not have as high a CR valuation as a property with dry ground and adequate frontage on an existing road.
Every CR is unique, tailored to a particular landowner’s goals, the characteristics of the land, and goals of the conservation entity. A CR may allow for hiking trails, hunting, forestry, or other types of activities–or it may not, depending on the landowner’s wishes. Conservation restrictions may cover all or only a portion of a property.
Yes. The landowner continues to own the property after granting a CR. So the owner can sell, give, or lease the property. However, all future owners and users must abide by the terms of the CR.
The public does not automatically have access to land protected by a CR unless it is specifically allowed in the agreement. This is the original landowner’s choice.
The land trust or entity that holds the CR is legally obligated to ensure the terms of the CR are being followed. To do that, they visit the property once a year to monitor the condition of the land. If any problems are found, the land trust works with the landowner to correct the situation. Under extreme violations of the CR terms, legal action may be taken. The land trust usually has no other management responsibilities and does not have control over any allowed activities on the land.
A CR can be placed on different types and sizes of land, though generally 5 acres or more is a preferred minimum. Forests, wetlands, wildlife habitat, farmlands, and scenic areas are all common examples of lands that may be conserved. Land trusts like Kestrel—as well as town or state agencies—have their own criteria that determine whether a property is appropriate for conservation, so each situation must be evaluated individually.