Some landowners spend their entire lives caring for the hills and streams they own. Some spend generations. But what happens to all their hard work when it comes time to entrust the land to someone else? Can they stop it from being bulldozed and paved over?
If preserving your farmland, forest, or wilderness is a priority to you, conservation easements could be the answer. Today, we’re sharing three important facts you should know about these legal agreements, including what they are, their benefits and restrictions, and where you can find land with conservation easements near Asheville, NC.
What is a Conservation Easement?
In the U.S., a conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement between a private landowner and a nonprofit land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation value for future generations. Landowners can use an easement to protect a whole property or part of it. The conservation easement is part of the chain of title for the property and “runs with the land”, making it applicable to both present and future landowners. Landowners retain many of their rights. These include the right to own and use the land, sell it, or and pass it to their heirs.
Conservation easements are also known as conservation restrictions or conservation agreements.
What is the Purpose of a Conservation Easement?
All conservation easements must provide public benefits. However, a conservation easement may vary in purpose or “conservation objectives” based on the needs of the landowner, the character of the property, and the goals of the private land conservation organization. Common goals for a conservation easement include:
- Maintain and improve water quality.
- Perpetuate and foster the growth of healthy forests.
- Preserve ranch and farm land for future generations.
- Maintain and improve wildlife habitat and migration corridors.
- Protect scenic vistas visible from roads and other public areas.
- Ensure that lands are managed so that they are always available for sustainable agriculture and forestry.
- Offer a location for environmental education or outdoor recreation.
- Preserve historic landmarks.
What are the Benefits and Restrictions of Conservation Easements?
In order to achieve and sustain its goals, a conservation easement typically forbids or substantially constrains subdivision and other real estate development. This may significantly reduce the resale price of the land. Other restrictions placed on the landowner can include limitations on surface mining, timbering, clearing of vegetation, motor vehicle access, and new farming. In addition, the landowner is responsible for maintaining proper usage of the land and complying with the terms of the easement, as managed by the land trust. Lastly, setting up the easement can be a complicated legal matter, incurring all the costs associated with such.
So, given all the downsides, why would a landowner choose to place their property in a conservation easement? For one, landowners who love the land they’re on likely believe in protecting it in the long term. In addition, property owners retain many of their private property rights. And keeping the land in private ownership continues to provide economic benefits to the area. Landowners may also receive significant state and federal tax advantages for having donated and/or sold the conservation easement. (These incentives were developed in part to compensate for the lower resale value of the land.) In some cases, easement can also give landowners the rights to specific uses of their land which if not reserved would be prohibited.
Read More: Living with Your Conservation Easement (NC DEQ)
Where Can You Find Conservation Easements near Asheville, NC?
According to the Buncombe County Land Conservation Advisory Board, 75,711 acres (of 420,269 total) within county lines are currently protected. This includes national forests, state parks, conservation easements, and protected watersheds. 15,181 of those acres are privately owned. And as many as another 5,000 acres could soon be under protection, according to a recent article from Asheville Citizen-Times.
Local easements protect farmland from non-farm development, protect properties from development pressure, protect natural resources and wildlife, and protect open spaces and working lands. Land trust groups like Conserving Carolina and Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy work with local governments to promote conservation and manage easements across the region.
Many planned communities in WNC have conservation as part of their mission. A few of these communities include:
Balsam Mountain Preserve
Balsam Mountain Preserve is the lowest density private club community in WNC. The community offers a concept rarely found in today’s homogenized, digitized world: a true sense of place. Marvel at the authentic and architecturally diverse homes that nestle into this high-elevation, 4,400-acre community. Created with a commitment to preserve its natural surroundings, more than 3,400 acres, or nearly 75% of the community, has been placed in a permanent conservation easement. This ensures it will never be developed and will always remain in its present park-like state.
Creston is a private, gated, and environmentally sensitive mountain community southwest of downtown Black Mountain. Many Creston homesite have or adjoin conservation easements. Residents also appreciate Creston’s community center, mountain views, hiking trails, waterfalls, and abundant wildlife. Many existing homes in the community feature a smaller footprint and reduced square footage, further lessening their environmental impact.
French Broad Crossing
Located on 750+ acres in Madison County, French Broad Crossing was born with a commitment to conservation in mind. Nearly one third of the community is currently under conservation easement with Southeast Regional Conservancy. The majority of the preserved land surrounds core wildlife areas that safeguard the delicate ecosystem around the mighty French Broad River. Community members include people from all across the country and at varying stages of life; yet, everyone is knit together by a common bond: to enjoy and protect this beautiful land.
Ready to Find Your Perfect, Protected Home?
As the real estate market leader in WNC, we at Beverly-Hanks have the local and professional expertise you need. As a member of Leading Real Estate Companies of The World®, we’re proud to work with the very best companies across the globe. We have professional connections to 565 market-leading real estate firms in 65 countries. And we can help you discover homes in conservation easements all over the world. We have the ability to truthfully declare, “We’re Local. We’re Global®.”
All real estate is local. In order to make confident real estate decisions, it’s important to have timely and neighborhood-specific information. Contact us today to speak with a Beverly-Hanks real estate agent about buying homes and land within conservation easements in Western North Carolina. View all Beverly-Hanks real estate listings.