Overview of a Conservation Easement

A conservation easement is a voluntary, permanent and legally binding agreement that allows a landowner to limit the amount and type of development that occurs on their property. The landowner (grantor) effectively signs over specified usage rights to one or more grantee(s), typically some combination of land trust, non-profit organization or public agency. The grantee(s) accept responsibility for enforcing the terms of the easement in perpetuity. This includes monitoring the condition of the property, usually annually. The landowner retains title and continues to manage the property, only the usage rights are subject to the agreement.

Conservation easements are a highly effective means of protecting undeveloped or historically significant property from development. In 2006, Governor Kaine set a goal of conserving 400,000 acres of Virginia property by the year 2010. To date, 263,000 acres have been protected in Virginia by means of conservation easements.

Restrictions placed on property through a conservation easement become a part of the title to the property and are binding on all future landowners. The primary aim of conservation easements is to permanently protect important resources for future generations; sometimes agricultural and forest resources, sometimes other vulnerable natural resources such as wildlife habitat, open space, scenic areas, and clean water and air.

In the present case, conservation easements will be employed to secure the future of the parcels that make up Richmond’s James River Park System: Huguenot Flatwater Park, Riverside Meadows, Pony Pasture Rapids Park, The Wetlands Wildlife Management Area, Great Shiplock Park, Northbank Park, the Main Area of the Park System south of the James River, Belle Isle and Pumphouse Park. Unique, environmentally sensitive, immensely popular and invaluable to the character of the City, these areas are vulnerable to misuse. Their location in downtown Richmond makes them especially appealing to developers intent on capitalizing on the renewed interest in the downtown area. Without the protection that conservation easements offer, these properties could be lost forever.

The City of Richmond will act as grantor, with the following entities acting as grantees and accepting stewardship of the properties: the Capitol Region Land Conservancy, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Richmond Recreation and Parks Foundation.

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