Conservation easements versus HOA covenants

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Over the years I have read several opinions that have vilified conservation easements. I have a conservation easement on my property and consider it an asset, not a detriment. I can’t speak for other conservation easements, but the Montana Land Reliance in Bigfork has been terrific, offering me free, practical advice on how to manage and improve my land.

My wife and I are selling our property and, guess what? Nobody said I needed permission to do so, in fact the Land Reliance offered to help the sale by sitting down with and answering any questions a prospective buyer may have regarding my easement. The primary goal of the MLR is to promote good land partnerships that result in healthy forests and wildlife that share common ground with the property owners.

When I compared my property to listings in the same price range, I found others that are located in subdivisions with a Homeowners Association.  Curious, I researched the covenants of a local subdivision and was shocked.  When placed side-by-side, I found the latter far more restrictive than my conservation easement. Besides seeking to preserve an attractive environment for wildlife, both documents restrict eyesores like trailer parks, mining activity and certain types of on-site businesses. But the HOA covenants go further... much further. For example, the particular document I read prevents the owner from putting up tents, tepees, etc., on one’s own property. The document goes so far as to specify the type and height of any fence. The HOA covenants limit the number of horses and even the number of household pets a property owner can have. An HOA design committee can dictate the color and material used on one’s roof and siding and the home’s minimum size and style. It does not allow storage of RVs or boats outside a garage. The HOA can even force the homeowner, under threat of fines,  to re-paint or re-stain building exteriors or resurface driveways if, in the opinion of the design review committee, not the homeowner, such work needs to be done. And, to top it off, it then bills the homeowner a monthly fee for being an involuntary member.  The conservation easement on my property has none of these restrictions or mandatory fees because its sole purpose is to make the property a good environment for wildlife, whereas the HOA covenants are determined to make the place attractive, not just for animals, but for the neighbors who live in the community as well.

It has been said that conservation easements are bad because they prevent an owner from subdividing a property in perpetuity.  Similarly, HOA covenants usually stay with a property longer than an owner lives there. But then I think how the value of my 70 acres will escalate over the years as the tracts surrounding me become subdivided into smaller and smaller-sized lots and, from an investment perspective, that’s a good thing.

To conclude, I guess I am dumbfounded how the people who dislike conservations easements can, at the same time, put up with the sometimes absurd restrictions imposed by covenants. Go figure.

Merlette is a resident of Bigfork.

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