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What Are Preserved Lands, And Can They Be Turned Into Commercial Land?

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Created on Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Updated on Monday, February 26, 2018
by Land Century

When purchasing property for commercial use, you’ll find plenty of opportunities. But what if the perfect piece of land for your project just so happens to be “preserved,” or protected. Can you purchase the property? And can you turn it into commercial land?

Before we can answer this question, it’s important for you to understand what preserved lands are and their purpose.

What are Preserved Lands?

Preserved lands are often referred to as protected areas or conservation areas. Just as the name suggests, these locations are protected because of their recognized ecological, natural or cultural values. There are several different types of protected areas, and the level of protection will vary depending on local laws and regulations. There are well over 161,000 protected areas around the globe, and more are being added daily.

Protected areas may come in the form of wilderness areas, national parks, nature reserves, community conserved areas or privately-owned preserves. Oftentimes, these lands are open to the public, although there are exceptions.

Why are Preserved Lands Important?

The purpose of a conservation area is to protect and preserve both the ecosystem and the cultural values associated with the area. They also serve as a solution to some of today’s most difficult challenges, including water and food scarcity.

Preserved lands provide drinking water to one in three of the 100 largest cities in the world. They also store just as much carbon as the tropical rainforests, and serve as a source for clean air and water as well as medicine. In many areas, protected lands help reduce the risk of food scarcity by preserving wild crops and allowing fisheries to thrive. As you can see, preserved lands play an important role in not only preserving nature, but providing us with vital resources.

Can Preserved Land Be Turned into Commercial Land?

You have a commercial venture planned, and you’ve found the perfect piece of land to develop it. The only problem? The land is protected. What can you do? Can you convert it to commercial land? In short, no. Although it highly depends on the property itself.

Preserved land often comes in the form of national parks, community land or nature reserves. In many cases, these lands are managed by government or local preservation agencies. As you can imagine, commercial development is not permitted. In fact, the whole purpose of having preserved land is to prevent commercial development in the first place. However, there may be an exception if there are conservation easements on the property.

What are Conservation Easements?

Under a conservation easement, a landowner gives up one or more land-use rights while still retaining ownership of land and the remainder of his or her rights. For example, a landowner may give up his or her right to build an additional structure on the property while still retaining the right to grow crops. In exchange, he or she receives a number of tax benefits.

Conservation easements are flexible, so no two agreements are the same. Some conservation easements are designed to accomplish a specific goal, such as to protect the local water quality. Some easements are broader, allowing for the preservation of farmland, views, or open space.

The great thing about conservation easements is that they are created by both the landowner and the entity that will be holding the easement. Each agreement is designed to meet the needs of both parties, meaning only the rights associated with reaching the conservation objective will be targeted.

A conservation easement agreement may require the landowner to protect the land in some way. This can come in the form of building fencing around a nearby stream to protect it from livestock, or refraining from subdividing the land. Again, each agreement is unique, but in many cases, the owner gives up the right to develop the land in the future. If this is the case, you will not be able to build either a residential or commercial structure.

If the property you’re considering is already zoned for commercial use and has conservation easements, you may be able to continue commercial activities. However, you will likely need to give up your right to build additional structures in the future. Remember, the agreement will be unique to the property, so the relinquished rights will vary from one property to another. With that said, purchasing such a property would come with tax benefits.

If the property is zoned for residential use and has conservation easements in place, it would take a tremendous amount of effort to turn the land into a commercial property. It’s difficult enough as is to rezone residential land without conservation easements. Adding these easements into the mix will make it nearly impossible.

The vast majority of easements will “run with the land,” meaning that they will remain with the property even if it is passed on or sold. The organization that holds the conservation easement will be responsible for ensuring that the easements terms will continue to be followed in the future. When the agreement is first created, the entity that holds the easement will create a report that indicates the original state of the property. This report will be used to monitor and enforce the agreement in the future. So, if your desired piece of land has conservation easements, be prepared to put in additional work to protect the property. And keep in mind that if you decide to sell, those easements will go along with it, which may make it difficult to find a buyer.

Should You Purchase Land with Conservation Easements?

Protected land isn’t for everyone. And if you have a commercial venture in mind, you may be better off staying away from this type of land. The purpose of preserved land is to protect the natural environment and cultural values of the area, which clashes with the goals of most commercial establishments.

With that said, there are exceptions to every rule, so if your goals are in line with the rights that the conserved property offers, it may be worth your while to purchase the property and continue on with your project’s plans.
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