Process of Conservation

How Does Conservation Work?

The most basic concept in understanding how conservation works is that the right to develop land is a right that can be sold or given away, separate from the land itself.   Just as a landowner can transfer other rights (i.e. a right of way or right to access land, an easement to use space for a septic system, etc) and still retain ownership of the land itself, landowners can also give up the right to develop a property, but still retain the property.

What is a Conservation Easement?

Ross/Culbert Property

When a landowner conserves land, he or she transfers the right to develop the land to a non-profit organization with a specific mission of accepting those development rights so that the land remains undeveloped in perpetuity.   The legal mechanism that completes that transfer is called a conservation easement.  The conservation easement specifies the permitted and restricted uses of the property, such as allowing agriculture, forestry or recreational use, but prohibiting future development or subdivision.    In some cases, a very limited amount of subdivision may be allowed, but is limited to areas that do not impact the agricultural, natural or scenic resources that are present.

How Does A Landowner Benefit?

Landowners may sell their development rights for full appraised value, donate them, or sell them for less than full value (called a bargain sale).  A property appraisal is done to determine these values.  Landowners may be able to take a charitable deduction if development rights are donated to the conservation organization or sold at less than full value.  In addition to the tax or monetary benefits of conservation, perhaps the greatest benefit for all for a landowner is seeing a special property protected and preserved into the future.

What are the Sources for Funding Conservation?

Kingston Woods

Money to fund the purchase of development rights can come from several sources, including fundraising and grants from foundations and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (a statewide program funded through receipts from the Property Transfer Tax) plus other state and federal programs.   Charlotte is extremely fortunate to have a Conservation Fund that provides funds for projects within the Town.   The Fund not only makes the difference in having adequate money to complete conservation projects, it also enables Charlotte to qualify for many grants that require local funding matches.

Project Selection Process

One of the tools CLT uses in reveiwing potential projects is a set of questions called "Project Selection Criteria" to guide the decision making and ranking of potential projects.  In addition, CLT consults various resource maps for the Town of Charlotte such as those on Critical Wildlife Habitat, and Natural and Cultural Features with High Public Value.

Projects are assessed for consistency with the goals of:

  • Compatability with the Charlotte Town Plan
  • Preservation of Charlotte's significant agricultural, natural and scenic resources
  • Long term management of the terms of the conservation easements

CLT's list of project selection criteria are used to ensure that:

  • Land protection goals for location, type and context are met
  • A pattern of conserved land is created throughout the town and for significant resource types
  • Projects are financially feasible and within the capacity of CLT to complete and steward long term
  • Landowner needs and wishes can be met

Stewardship of the conserved property

View of Foote Farm from the East

Land conservation transactions can often be complicated, involving multiple parties, financing mechanisms, fundraising and tax structures.  We celebrate closing the conservation transaction as the culmination of substantial work.  From the land conservation perspective, however, closing the transaction is really just the beginning.

What matters next is to ensure that the conservation values that formed the basis for the transaction are maintained.  Indeed, protecting the conservation values of the lands CLT acquires an interest in is some of our most important work.  After all, the conservation objective is met only through the continued protection of the land, the thing that allows us to put up signs that read “This Land is Conserved Forever.”

Various elements go in to the stewardship effort.  At the outset it is important to establish a clear baseline of expectations.  What are the property’s characteristics and conservation values?  What uses or activities are to be permitted (and restricted) on the conserved land?  Who has rights to enforce the conservation provisions?  This baseline is accomplished primarily through a Baseline Documentation Report (BDR) that includes photos of the property and other site-specific characteristics.

Next, CLT monitors its conservation easements in detail on an annual basis.  Land owners are encouraged to accompany the CLT representative for the site visit.  Site visits require a walk around the property with the BDR to compare existing conditions to those reflected in the BDR and, where possible, discussion with the landowner concerning any changed circumstances.  The site visit is then documented on an established monitoring report, and the landowner is advised in writing as to the result of the monitoring effort.

If the Stewardship monitoring indicates that the conserved land is not being used consistently with the terms of the conservation easemnt, then CLT's obligation as a steward of the land is to take necessary follow up measures, including legal action, if necessary, to compel compliance.

Tree in Kingston Woods

Conservation Counts!

Conservation can be a complicated process and this has been just a brief description of its most basic points.   Conservation has had a profound and lasting impact on Charlotte by protecting our most important farmland, our most sensitive natural areas and wonderful recreational opportunities.  Please contact the Charlotte Land Trust for more information.

Charlotte Conserved Lands Map

The Charlotte Conserved Lands Map is a result of a collaborative effort of the Town of Charlotte Planning Office, the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and the Charlotte Land Trust.  It is revised annually.

The legend describes the many categories of conservation easements on land parcels and highlights a variety of public and private property owners.  The map reflects the success of CLT working with our conservation partners such as the Vermont Land Trust, the Lewis Creek Association, the Town of Charlotte,  the Lake Champlain Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy.

Click here to download the map.

Conservation Fund Benefits Charlotte Map

Here's a map we've created showing all the conservation projects in Charlotte funded partially using the Town of Charlotte Conservation Fund, up to and including 2012.

Click here to download the map.