Private Land Preservation
Private Land Preservation is one avenue for helping preserve the natural vitality and beauty of the North Carolina High Country.
We would like to begin to flesh that out in this article by focusing on one means of protection – establishing protective covenants. “Protective covenants” is a term for what has been traditionally called “deed restrictions”. By either name these are stipulations attached to a property’s deed that state what the owner will and/or will not allow to happen on or in relation to the property. In our area, these generally remain in force for 21 years and “run with the land”, i.e. they remain in force even if the land is sold. They are generally very difficult to change and, therefore, are a powerful way to protect land and ensure a high quality of life for people, plants, animals and waters on and below the ground. We prefer the term “protective covenants” because it connotes a positive, protective function.
Protective covenants may increase or decrease the market value and salability of a property, but in general now they are coming to be seen as more asset than liability. We have had several experiences recently with buyers negotiating more stringent covenants than the seller had planned to record at the courthouse. In each instance, the buyer wanted to assure a greater level of protection for the land and for quality of life.
Increasingly more people are coming to see positive value in a better balance between freedom and responsibility, between short and long-term outlooks. Virtually all subdivisions – be they urban or rural – have protective covenants, some of which address ecological and environmental protections. Such covenants can also be established by the private land or residential property owner, as well as by a developer.
Examples of pro-ecology covenants? State a limit on possible subdivision. For instance, in Foscoe the county sets the minimum lot size to be one acre. But a landowner may establish a greater minimum lot size, such as five acres, and/or limit the number of possible lots that could be created from the original parcel, or might even state that the property cannot be subdivided at all. Limiting subdivision is one of the two most powerful private land preservation tools, the other being a conservation easement.
Other examples: limit the number and kind of structures that can be on the property. Limit the amount of clearing that can be done for construction purposes. State what kinds of activities may or may not occur on the property. Limit the amount of tree-cutting and clearing that can be done to create a view. State the maximum diameter of trees that may be cut. Define what kind of outdoor lighting can be used, when and what kind of noise is allowed and how dogs are to be managed, so as not to overly interfere with wildlife or human enjoyment of the property.
Covenants may directly address protections for wildlife, such as limiting or prohibiting hunting, trapping or otherwise killing wild animals. The use only of insecticides and herbicides friendly to the environment and to people can be required. Surface and subsurface water quality can be assured by restricting what substances can be used on the land or allowed to run into surface water or seep into ground water, as well as banning water use for lawns.
In weeks to come, we will address other avenues of private land protection. These will include establishing conservation easements, going “green” in building and in using alternative energy sources, living more simply and with less impact on the environment, actively supporting the work of land trusts and conservancies in the High Country, addressing diseases that are threatening major tree species in the area, going organic on your land or farm, and cultivating in your own life and work a new mind-set and paradigm of sustainable living and respectful relationship with the natural world.