Conservation Options for Landowners
Peterborough has a long, strong history of landowning families choosing to conserve their property in a number of ways—during their ownership or when the time came to consider transfer of ownership including sale.
Ideally, from a town planning perspective, a family's decision process includes conservation as one possible outcome.
Options range from sale at market value to a "conservation buyer" on through to the other end of the spectrum: donation of the land as permanent conservation land.
In-between is a wide range of options illustrated by the following examples from here in town—including names, faces and places familiar to many. Click on the underlined headings for more details about each one.
★Monahon easements - Four Winds Farm Road. Duffy Monahon, and her mother and brother at her urging, placed easements on six different properties that had been her grandparents' farm. Two easements have exclusion areas around existing buildings; one set aside a future house lot but was amended later to extinguish the house lot; three designate no further development other than what's needed for agriculture and forestry operations.
★DuBois Otter Brook Farm easements - Gulf Road / Happy Valley region - the largest privately owned conservation land in town at over 700 acres. Following an inventory that documented state-ranked natural resources on about half the acreage, the owners chose to designate that area as "Wildland." The remainder has the standard easement terms that allow commercial agriculture and forestry. The "wildlland" section, mostly wetlands and lowland forest, are to remain comparatively free of human disturbance.
1. CONSERVATION EASEMENT PLACED ON PRIVATELY HELD PROPERTY
Thirty-eight families in Peterborough have utilized the conservation easement deed to place certain limits on further development of their land.
In every case, landowners determined the extent of those limits. Conservation easement land remains in private ownership with its conservation values preserved.
The easements on two parcels designate an exclusion area for a house lot if desired at a future time, and one has a generous exclusion area around the existing house and various outbuildings.
Since the first conservation easements in town—the 1976 Perkins Bass easements*—no two have been the same. All are designed to reflect the owners' wishes for their land as they anticipate future generations.
*Rosaly Bass developed her organic Rosaly's Garden & Farmstand on the Bass easement properties on both sides of Route 123S.
2. SALE TO TOWN AS CONSERVATION LAND
★Hall Property – 121 acres stretching between Route 101W and Nubanusit Brook. Don and June Hall gave the town notice when they knew they would be selling their land. The town had time to evaluate it in terms of land use planning. At the recommendation of the Select Board, Town Meeting voters in 2000 approved funds to buy the land.
Don Hall, who had hunted the land with his father and two sons, said that conservation of the land he knew well is one of his life's greatest satisfactions.
In 2014 volunteers and neighbors built the 1.6 mile Evans Flats Trail on the land.
3. SALE TO A "CONSERVATION BUYER"
★Strong easement - When a landowner alerted the Open Space Committee that she planned to sell 109 acres abutting the Fremont Conservation Land on Old Jaffrey Road, members sought what's called a "conservation buyer"—someone who would conserve it. Outreach succeeded when Bob and Gael Strong bought the property and placed a conservation easement on the land that specifies one future house lot.
★Hiroshi Hayashi land – 109 acres in NW Peterborough stretching between Route 137 and Nubanusit Brook. It took six years to realize Latacarta Restaurant chef/owner Hiroshi Hayashi's strong desire to conserve his land. Various efforts failed during Hiroshi's life, but his family respected his wishes that sale be to a conservation buyer. The Harris Center was that buyer, in 2014, with help from a $50,000 grant from Peterborough's land conservation fund. A parking area along Rte 137 gives ready access to trails that are open to the public.
★Cheney Avenue Field - west of the Stone Barn. The landowner in this case sold the 23-acre field to neighbors abutting the field, assisted by donations from other townspeople. The neighbors in turn placed a conservation easement on the land and gave it to the town. Besides an open expanse with views of Mount Monadnock, the land provides sledding and skating in winter, and a section of a trail between the downtown and Miller State Park.
As with the Hall Property above, landowners in all three examples allowed enough time for the "conservation buyer" option to develop and succeed. Result: permanent conservation of land that ranks high in conservation values as stated in the Peterborough Master Plan.
4. DONATION AS CONSERVATION LAND
★Shieling State Forest - Author Elizabeth Yates McGreal ("Amos Fortune, Free Man") donated her 48-acre farm to the state along with an endowment for educational programs in forestry and conservation. The land is rich in town history with evidence of the Hadley brickyard as well as a former quarry.
Conservation easements (CE) in a nutshell
A landowner works with a land trust or government agency (a town's conservation commission) to draw up a conservation easement document that is filed at the Registry of Deeds. The land trust "holds" the easement and sees that its terms are honored—typically through an annual monitoring visit.
The landowner "donor" of the easement may be entitled to an IRS charitable deduction equal to the market value relinquished through the easement if certain criteria are met that demonstrate public benefit.
The easement preamble cites those benefits: wildlife habitat preserved, scenic values along a public way, farm or forestland, wildlife habitat being conserved; meeting conservation goals stated in a town's Master Plan or other official document.
Town funding assistance for land conservation
Recognizing the public benefit of conserving key natural resources, Peterborough voters established a LAND ACQUISITION CAPITAL RESERVE FUND in 2002. The Fund is used primarily to cover landowner costs involved in conserving their land. These costs include surveys, legal, and land trust administrative costs in the case of conservation easements.
The Open Space Committee also leverages town funds with state and other funding sources.