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What is a Conservation Restriction?

A conservation restriction is a legal agreement that permanently protects the natural features of a parcel of land by limiting the property’s uses. With a conservation restriction, the landowner conveys certain rights to a property to a conservation organization.  Conservation restrictions are permanent encumbrances and run with the land.  Even though a property under a conservation restriction may be sold, the conservation restriction is permanent.  It remains in force and remains with the conservation organization to whom it was granted.  Conservation restrictions can be given or sold, and Sheriff’s Meadow both accepts gifts of conservation restrictions and also purchases them.  Conservation restrictions can result in savings on income, estate and property taxes, depending on the given property and the details of the restriction.

In drafting a conservation restriction, the landowner and Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation review the landowner’s needs and goals and assess the conservation values of the land. Together the landowner and Sheriff’s Meadow will draft the conservation restriction.  The restriction will outline the landowner’s rights, the prohibited uses, and the responsibilities of Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation.  Conservation restrictions must also be approved at three levels of government.  First, the town must approve the conservation restriction.  Second, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, must approve the conservation restriction.  Finally, the conservation restriction must be acceptable to the Internal Revenue Service if the landowner is seeking benefit from its donation or its bargain sale.  For donations or bargain sales of conservation restrictions, these must also be accompanied by a qualified property appraisal.  Essentially, for a conservation restriction to be approved and acceptable, the conservation restriction must serve a public purpose.

Once a conservation restriction is in place, the donor of the restriction continues to own and use the land.  Use, however, must occur within the limits established by the conservation restriction.  Sheriff’s Meadow foundation regularly monitors all of its restrictions to prevent violations, maintain good communication with landowners, and address problems.

Depending on the nature and the breadth of the conservation restriction, owners of land under conservation restrictions generally retain numerous rights.  Building may be prohibited on most of the property, but allowed within a defined building envelope.  The landowner may retain the right to conduct forestry and agriculture, to fence the land, and so on.  With a conservation restriction, a landowner may either restrict public access to his land or convey rights of public access to the conservation organization.  A landowner can also convey public access in dormant fashion, such that that right would only be exercised by the conservation organization if the property can connect to other accessible lands in some meaningful way.  The key is that each conservation restriction is tailored to the particular property, to the individual landowner, and to the conservation organization.  We encourage you to contact Sheriff’s Meadow if you have any interest in a conservation restriction.