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Landowners who wish to protect their land permanently without giving up ownership may choose to place a Conservation Restriction on their property. A Conservation Restriction, or CR for short, is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner (the “Grantor”) and a qualified conservation organization, such as the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, The Trustees of Reservations, or Sudbury Valley Trustees, or a government entity, such as the Town of Carlisle (the “Grantee”).
Under the terms of a CR, the Grantor relinquishes certain development rights to the property forever, and gives the Grantee the right and responsibility to monitor the property and defend the terms of the CR. (In most other states, the CR is known as a “Conservation Easement.”) Under the CR, the land may be sold, bequeathed, or given to any party the owner chooses. The CR goes on record at the Registry of Deeds and becomes a permanent part of the property’s title, binding all future owners of the land. The public has no right to use the property unless the right is specifically granted in the CR.
The owner of any property “owns” certain rights to use and enjoy the property. The owner may also give up some of those rights, either temporarily (e.g., if you rent out your house for a year, you give up the right to occupy and use it) or permanently (e.g., if you grant an easement to the electric company to run its lines through your land). Those rights don’t just disappear; they are transferred to someone else. In a CR, the landowner gives up specific development rights. Those rights must be held by someone — known as the “Grantee” or “holder.” Under Massachusetts law, grantees must be either a municipality or a qualified conservation organization.
A CR cannot be removed. It is intended specifically to protect the land in perpetuity, and extends to all subsequent owners of the property.
Landowners typically put CRs on their land for two reasons. First: they wish to see the land protected over time, and second: they would like to benefit from the tax advantages associated with CRs. When land is being passed on from one generation to another, estate taxes can occasionally force the sale of the land in order to satisfy the tax burden. A CR can provide substantial estate tax relief, allowing the family to avoid selling the land.
Landowners who donate CRs are often eligible for federal and state income tax deductions and tax credits. The amount of the charitable contribution is determined by a professional appraiser hired by the donor, and is calculated as the amount by which the CR has lowered the fair market value of the property. All or a portion of this contribution, up to 50% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) each year, may be deducted from federal taxable income over 15 years. For more information on federal tax benefits, see the Land Trust Alliance web page on Income Tax Incentives for Land Conservation.
In addition, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts offers a Conservation Land Tax Credit of 50% of the charitable contribution, up to $50,000, with any amount larger than the donor’s Massachusetts income tax paid in cash. CR gifts may provide estate and property tax benefits as well. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the U.S. Government encourage CRs where there is a clear public benefit to protecting the specific parcel.
Although public access is often the simplest way for the Grantor to demonstrate a clear public benefit, the public has no right to access or use the property unless that right is specifically granted in the CR. Each CR is very detailed in this regard. CRs granted to protect a trail obviously allow access, but may restrict such access to foot traffic only — walking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Others may also permit horseback riding and cycling. CRs protecting rare plants or sensitive wildlife habitat may prohibit all public access.
That depends on the Grantee of the CR. If it is the Town of Carlisle, you should contact Sylvia Willard, the Carlisle Conservation Commission Administrator, at (978) 369-0336, or visit her at the Town Hall. She can also provide a copy of the CR that impacts your property. If the Grantee is a conservation organization, you should contact them at the “Notice” address found in the CR. You can also obtain a copy of your CR online from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds.
They are very common. In Massachusetts, 2,024 CRs were established between 2001 and 2015, protecting 305,111 acres of land. They are now used to protect all types of land, including coastlines; farm and ranch land; historical or cultural landscapes; scenic views; streams and rivers; trails; forested land; open space; meadows; wetlands; wildlife areas; and working forests. Here in Carlisle, there are more than 50 CRs protecting nearly a thousand acres.
It’s best to start by calling Sylvia Willard at the Carlisle Conservation Commission for basic information about CRs. Conservation organizations that hold CRs in Carlisle may also provide assistance. These include the Carlisle Conservation Foundation, the New England Forestry Foundation, and The Trustees of Reservations. Online resources can be found at the Land Trust Alliance and at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Division of Conservation Services.
CRAC will be happy to meet with any Carlisle landowner, and help them understand the legal steps necessary to draft the CR and have it approved by the Town boards and State Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) and finally get it recorded at the Registry of Deeds.
CRAC is the Carlisle Conservation Restriction Advisory Committee. The committee was established by the Conservation Commission to assist landowners in understanding and protecting their CRs and is responsible for monitoring all CRs which have been granted to the Town of Carlisle. The committee also advises the Conservation Commission in matters pertaining to CRs. Members are appointed by the Selectmen.
Periodically, the committee visits each of the Town-held CR properties to make sure that the terms of the CR are being respected. The committee notifies the landowner before these visits and sends the owner a copy of its report after the visit. These inspections also serve the purpose of making new landowners with CRs on their recently purchased property aware of their responsibilities concerning the terms of the CR.