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What is a Conservation Easement?

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  • What is a Conservation Easement?

    A good definition of a conservation easement is a legal agreement through which a landowner gives up certain uses and developmental rights in the land by way of a series of restrictions. In exchange, certain other rights, including the right to enforce the restrictions, are granted to a non-profit conservation organization or a government agency involved in park or natural area protection. Conservation easement properties can maintain rights to some uses while enjoying the benefits of protection.

    The Drovers Road Preserve easement (, developed by Equinox Environmental, protects 110 acres, allowing specified development on the other 76 acres. Each residential lot adjoins the Preserve lands, providing easy access to miles of hiking and equestrian trails. The easement permanently protects a majority of the forested, mountainous terrain from all future development. It is held by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and registered in Buncombe County. Very little North Carolina mountain real estate is protected in this way.

    What is protected by conservation easements?

    Conservation easements are tailored to the particular characteristics of the land. First, a complete natural resource inventory is developed, including maps, photographs of existing improvements, species lists, etc. By identifying sensitive areas, land use patterns, and any areas where limited development may be allowed, the inventory provides the conceptual framework for drafting the easement. At Drovers Road Preserve, the easement protects 59% of the entire property, including rare species habitat, four rare vascular plants, sensitive water resources, and the 150-year-old forest stands along the ridgeline.

    How do conservation easements differ from restrictive covenants in subdivisions?

    Though similar in that both govern how a property may be developed, land with a conservation easement differs in several significant ways from subdivisions under a restrictive covenant. Subdivision restrictions encourage controlled development of the property in order to protect private property values. Conservation easements, by contrast, are by definition designed primarily to preserve property in its natural state. Though many easements allow certain specified uses, a conservation easement is intended to provide benefits to the public at large, not just individual homeowners, by protecting native habitats and resident species of plants and animals.

    Is a conservation easement a legally binding document?

    If the easement will continue to bind future owners of the land, and if the donor wishes to claim a charitable contribution for the conveyance, it must be registered in the public land records (the "Registry") of the county or counties where the property is located. Drovers Road Preserve, as a registered conservation easement property in Buncombe County, is legally protected from additional development for all future generations.

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