Conservation Restrictions

Understanding Conservation Restrictions

A conservation restriction (CR) is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. The restriction is signed by the landowner, who is the restriction donor, and the Dedham Land Trust, which is the party receiving the restriction. All CR’s must be approved by Dedham’s Board of Selectmen and at the state level by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Dedham Land Trust accepts the restriction with the understanding that it must enforce the terms of the restriction in perpetuity. After the restriction is signed, it is recorded with the County Register of Deeds and applies to all future owners of the land.

Why do people grant conservation restrictions?

People grant conservation restrictions because they want to protect their property from unwanted development but they also wish to retain ownership of their land. By granting a CR  a landowner can assure that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future. An additional benefit of granting a conservation restriction is that the donation of a restriction may provide significant financial advantage to the donor and the donor’s heirs, since taxes will be lowered in the future.

What kind of financial advantages result from donating a restriction?

Many landowners receive a federal income tax deduction for the gift of a CR . The Internal Revenue Service allows a deduction if the restriction is perpetual and donated “exclusively for conservation purposes.” The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the value of the conservation restriction. In addition, the donor may have estate and property tax relief.

What activities are allowed on land protected by a restriction?

The activities allowed by a conservation restriction depend on the landowner’s wishes and the characteristics of the property. In some instances, no further development is allowed on the land. In other circumstances some additional development is allowed, but the amount and type of development is less than would otherwise be allowed. Conservation restrictions may be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property. Every restriction is unique, tailored to a particular landowner’s goals and their land.

Can the landowner still sell or give the property away?

The landowner continues to own the property after executing a restriction. Therefore, the owner can sell, give or lease the property, as before. However, all future owners assume ownership of the property subject to the conditions of the CR.

Does the public have a right of access to restriction-protected property?

The public does not have access to property protected by a restriction unless the original landowner who grants the restriction specifically allows it. Most restriction donors do not want, and therefore do not allow, public access to their property.

How long does a restriction last and who enforces it in the future?

To be eligible for a federal income tax deduction the restriction must be “perpetual,” that is, it must last forever. The Dedham Land Trust monitors the property, generally once a year, to assure that the restriction is not being violated. If the CR has been breached, the Dedham Land Trust will take whatever steps are necessary to enforce the terms of the restriction, including taking legal action. Because of this obligation the Dedham Land Trust asks all restriction donors to make a financial contribution to DLT. These funds ensure long-term monitoring and enforcement of every restriction the Dedham Land Trust receives.

Who owns the conservation restriction?

To qualify for a tax deduction the CR must be donated to the government or a qualifying conservation or historic preservation organization. The Dedham Land Trust qualifies as a federally recognized public charity under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(C)(3). In addition, DLT is qualified to receive conservation restrictions under Massachusetts law.

Who owns and manages land subject to a CR?

The landowner retains full rights to control and manage their property within the limits of the CR. The landowner continues to bear all costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property. The Dedham Land Trust monitors the property to ensure compliance with the restriction’s terms, but it has no other management responsibilities and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land.

Does the restriction have to cover all of the landowner’s property?

No, some CR’s only cover a portion of the landowner’s property. Again, it depends on the landowner’s wishes. For example, if someone owns 30 acres, of which 5 acres are wetlands, the landowner may decide to restrict development only on these 5 acres. The remaining 25 acres would not be covered or affected by the restriction.

What kind of land can be protected by conservation restrictions?

IRS regulations require that the property have “significant” conservation values. This includes forests, wetlands, endangered species habitat, beaches, scenic areas and more. At the invitation of the landowner, the Dedham Land Trust will evaluate the property to determine whether it meets DLT’s criteria.

Explore your options

If you would like more information about your options as a landowner, or if you would like to arrange for the Dedham Land Trust to do a site visit and discuss land protection options, please contact the Dedham Land Trust: