Rights in land exists as a bundle. For example, timber, mining and air rights can all be sold or leased while maintaining ownership of land. Similarly, development rights in a parcel of land may be granted to an organization who exists to hold those rights unused in perpetuity. A conservation easement is the method used to transfer those rights. Conservation easements can also be used to protect historically significant features of buildings, but in those instances, they are typically considered to be preservation or façade easements, though their purpose is the same. These types of easements are essentially voluntary restrictions on the use or alteration of a property. In the natural environment, conservation easements generally restrict the subdivision or development of land in an effort to protect its natural state and/or agricultural value. In the built environment, a façade easement may protect against the alteration of architectural features of a building due to their significance or style-defining character.
Conservation and preservation easements are effective tools for the preservation of numerous elements of green infrastructure. They can be implemented to protect a variety of resources that are valuable to the community (e.g., water quality, sensitive habitats, views). They are attractive as a preservation tool because the property owner still retains ownership of the land subject to an easement and is still responsible for maintenance, upkeep and taxes (tough usually reduced) due on the property.
Typically, state constitutions establish enabling legislation governing the establishment of conservation easements. An easement should be drafted by legal counsel knowledgeable with the laws of easements, and research will be needed to identify an agency that will hold and monitor the easement. Many land conservation agencies will only hold easements that further their specific interests or protect land of significant environmental quality. In some instances, the holder of the easement will also seek a monetary stipend to offset costs of monitoring and defending the easement.
Conservation easements result in the protection of resources that are valuable to the community while still allowing private ownership of the property. In many instances, conservation easements have been shown to increase the value of the subject property and adjacent properties. However, because a property owner gives up a right to use his property in a certain manner, the conservation easement may also affect the taxes owed on the property by reducing them commensurately with the foregone rights.
Conservation easements are binding on successive property owners; therefore, the purchase of a property subject to an easement should be thoughtfully entered into. A prospective owner should fully understand the limitations of the easement prior to purchase of the property. Furthermore, the agency holding the easement should consider the costs (staff time, legal fees, etc.) of monitoring and defending that easement.
Most easements involve the property owner and the holder or enforcer of the easement. Easements can have provisions that allow for their dissolution, or “sunset” clauses, but typically, they are legally binding on subsequent property owners. The holder of the easement is typically either a governmental body or a charitable organization. An easement should be drafted by legal counsel knowledgeable with the law of easements to ensure its legal sufficiency and proper recording.
The system of land, natural resources, and natural habitats that collectively comprise a community's underlying ecosystem. Green Infrastructure is present in every city, although its size, diversity, and strength vary greatly. Importantly, green infrastructure can be used to help offset negative environmental impacts, for example stormwater runoff and urban heat island effect.