Cape Cod Times: Support Land Trusts

Sunday Editorial: 
Dec. 21, 2014

Saving the future:  Conservation trusts remain a worthy investment                                     

Many of the more seasoned residents of Cape Cod may remember a time when it did not seem that every parcel of land was either up for sale or had a structure on it. The rapid pace of development, which began in the 1960s and continued largely unabated for the next three decades, coincided with an equally dramatic movement: the rise of local conservation trusts.

The trusts have done Herculean work during the past 50 years. The groups have preserved in excess of 8,700 acres across the Cape. The effort, which has been a combination of local and regional work, has at times created unique partnerships that transcended public/private boundaries, and even prompted trusts from adjoining towns to combine forces and finances in an effort to save particularly sensitive parcels.

The public financing endeavors received a significant boost in the late 1990s when voters in every Cape town decided to create land banks through a voluntary three percent surcharge on all property tax bills. The funding was a windfall for trusts, which had largely operated on a steady diet of donations, fundraisers, and state and federal grants. More recently, most of those land banks have been transformed into Community Preservation Act funds, which can fund a variety of local projects, including land preservation.

But just as builders now battle to find open land on which to create new structures, so too are the trusts struggling with the realities associated with build-out, the point at which all available land in a community has been developed. In short, the remaining open land on this peninsula is increasingly found in the form of smaller and more expensive properties. This has created a sellers’ market, requiring that trusts appeal as much to the better angels of property owners’ natures as to their pocketbooks.

There is also a timing factor. While many developers are standing by with ready cash, trusts may not have such easy access to funding. In many cases, the disbursement of Community Preservation Act funds can only be authorized through a vote at town meeting, an event that occurs only once or twice a year. If the purchase is contingent on a state or federal grant, the delay may be more extensive.

Trusts are making inroads in new directions to remain competitive. Some are appealing to people who may be looking toward ensuring their green legacies, encouraging individuals and families to consider donating their property through a will or trust. Owners who want to retain their property and who want to help preserve it as well can also consider a conservation restriction that allows them to continue to enjoy their land, but which prohibits the possibility of future development on it.

Many of these trusts are also facing a reality that may have seemed like a potential future happy problem when they were originally conceived. Some of these groups must now oversee the use of the hundreds of acres of land that they have purchased, providing the public with some form of more immediate return on their investment in the form of walking trails, scenic vistas, and other access. Other trusts have also discovered that they must maintain their properties to preserve them, battling invasive species and ensuring that the land is maintained.

The fact is that the value of land preservation remains just as important now as it was five decades ago when such efforts began in earnest. If anything, the stakes are even higher today, and the need for our collective support even more urgent.   Link: