What is Conservation Land Planning?

Conservation land planning combines two important objectives that may at first appear incompatible:

    • Protecting the natural resource value of land, such as agricultural soils, wildlife habitat, ecologically sensitive areas such as wetlands, and the land’s scenic attributes; and
    • Creating opportunities for siting buildings and structures on land so that they fit in with the natural landscape. This can potentially lead to enhanced land values through proper planning.

The term “conservation” is used here in its historic sense to mean the “wise use and management” of land to achieve varied social objectives. It does not mean locking up all the land permanently in its “forever wild” state or giving it away to charity. Rather, it usually involves a combination of carefully planned development and preservation actions. Combining these measures can maximize the value of the portion of the land to be developed by taking advantage of and preserving what is truly special about the property.

How Can a Conservation Land Planner Assist a Landowner

Landowners who want to protect both their investment in the land and its distinctive character can find attractive ways to combine these objectives with the assistance of a conservation land planner. This is done through a four-step process that results in long-term preservation and may also (but need not) involve limited development, subdivision, and full or partial sale. The conservation land planner will:

    • Step 1: Identify the landowner’s short-term and long-term objectives for the land. These may include financial objectives such as selling the property in its entirety, reducing property tax burdens, or raising a designated sum of money from a partial sale. Conservation and stewardship objectives might include maintaining wildlife habitat, raising livestock or crops, preserving privacy, providing for family use of the property, or protecting a scenic view of agricultural fields.
    • Step 2: Assess and map the resource values of the land to determine what is most important to preserve. The resource values selected for preservation will depend largely upon the conservation organization’s mission combined with the owner’s personal and family objectives.
    • Step 3: Generate various options for the use and potential future disposition of portions of the land to meet the landowner’s financial and preservation objectives. This may include the preparation of limited development plans, conservation easements, or subdivision maps where appropriate.
    • Step 4: Work with the landowner to select a preferred option and implement it through legal documents such as conservation easements or deed restrictions, subdivision and site plan approvals, or marketing a portion of the property.

Is Conservation Land Planning Useful to Purchasers and Sellers of Land as well as to Current Landowners?

Conservation land planning is very useful to landowners who are thinking about the future of their land, for those involved in the purchase and sale of properties, and for developers who want to consider protecting a portion of a property while implementing a conservation development plan.

For developers and purchasers, it is important to involve the planner early in the acquisition process, since the acquisition price may depend upon the disposition options available. By enlisting the help of a conservation land planner, buyers may be able to purchase a larger parcel and, through a simple but effective conservation subdivision plan, obtain the parcel they want at a favorable acquisition cost. Other portions of the property may be sold at a small profit, permanently protected by conservation easements.

Similarly, sellers may be able to gain a far better yield on the sale of their property by following a well-considered conservation subdivision plan, rather than selling in bulk to a developer who would then derive a profit from carving up the land. Sellers may also be able to achieve their financial objectives without having to live elsewhere by keeping some of the land and selling a portion according to a financially sound conservation plan. It is advisable to consult a conservation land planner before placing a property on the market.

How Can Financial and Conservation Goals be Combined?

Land is an asset which, if properly managed and planned can produce a good return without damaging its resources. Conservation land planning involves careful analysis of the real estate market to determine how to make conservation use most profitable. Spreading development across the property is not necessarily the landowner’s most cost-effective option when taking into account the tremendous cost of building roads and other site improvements. In some of the most scenic areas, large parcels actually bring a higher per-acre price than smaller ones. Also, as towns are becoming more sensitive to environmental factors and more innovative in their land use regulations, conservation land planning is becoming an approach that often wins favor with local planning boards.

One fundamental principle of land planning is that the location and siting of development is at least as important as the amount of development. More units can often be accommodated on a site when properly planned and located than under a typical “sprawl” pattern that blankets the entire tract. In conservation land plans, the areas designated for future development are carefully selected to maximize preservation of natural assets while minimizing development costs for large parcel and cluster development. A conservation planning approach may be more profitable as costs are often lower than for sprawl development.

Will Conservation Land Planning “Zone Out” Those Who Cannot Afford to Own Large Tracts of Land?

Conservation land planning ensures that what is built is sensitively sited and designed. Cluster development, even at a very small scale, may make it possible to provide a variety of types of housing and may well be the key to providing affordable housing.

Conservation land planning makes good financial sense, helps to stabilize the tax base and provides housing opportunities for all walks of life.

If you are interested in learning more about Conservation Land Planning, please contact us at (845) 677-3002.

This information does not constitute legal or tax advice and DLC strongly recommends that you discuss your land conservation options with legal and tax professionals.