I work with people who own land that they strongly appreciate, even love, because of its natural and cultural significance, its beauty, and their deep association with it, often over many years. They may have farmed crops or trees on the property, gardened, studied its natural and human history,, picnicked on an overlook, a meadow or in a grove of trees, hiked, and camped out; or they may have enjoyed the property as a gathering place for family and friends.
Examples: an intact farm and forest landscape designed by a prominent landscape architect; a working farm or forest that has become important as a seasonal retreat for multiple generations of a family; a second home (secluded or in a resort area) with an uncertain future if it passes to the younger generation without agreement on a realistic plan for its use and stewardship; or it may be a “surplus” asset owned by a non-profit institution such as a college, church, or foundation that needs to raise capital for its mission but that wants to avoid controversy, internal or external, if and when the property is put on the market.
For landowners — individuals, families, or organizations — I offer an efficient and affordable fact-finding and decision-making process that explores practical options and finds ways to “get to yes” and to move forward with a clear an appropriate plan.
For individuals and families:
I offer a straight-forward decision process that carefully documents the natural and cultural values of the property, explores the needs and preferences of family members, and considers the views of stakeholders. With this information, I develop and array a set of real-world options and work with the client to formulate good solution and to ensure that it is carried out carefully and efficiently.
For institutions, organizations, and foundations:
More often than many people realize, non-profit — as well as for-profit –organizations find that they own land or buildings that are not contributing to the organization’s mission, but that should not be handed over to a real estate broker for general sale. Either the land has been given to the organization with legal or moral conditions on its disposal; or the land has become informally “encumbered” by the strong expectations of neighbors or the community, perhaps over many years. As many organizations have learned, violating those informal expectations can be as damaging as violating legal prohibitions. A controversial liquidation of a substantial property can divide the institution, damage its reputation, and disrupt fund=raising for many months or years. A well-organized process that carefully considers the value, character and importance of the land involved can better anticipate difficulties, prevent errors, and avoid fits-and-starts in moving forward to meet the institution’s s with individual or family landowners, I offer an efficient and affordable process that begins with collecting relevant information about the property and its situation and understanding the property’s natural and cultural significance, especially its importance to the community as represented by a range of viewpoints. With the benefit of a range of community views, the project team formulates criteria for retention, sale, or possible exchange of the property, and develops a strategy and plan for moving forward successfully.
Religious organizations, a special case
Religious organizations, including monasteries and convents, hold many thousands of acres of land, much of it undeveloped and valuable to their communities. As persistent trends put pressure on these groups to raise capital, religious leaders of good will and conscience confront hard choices — to sell such land to the highest bidder to provide for the organization’s needs. But a sale to the wrong buyer may result in development and uses that contradict the organization’s strongly held mission.
I can help religious organizations consider their options for monetizing the cultural and environmental values of their land, in whole or in part, to provide for their financial needs while staying true to their missions. Not that I have strongly held secular beliefs, but I listen well and deeply respect the convictions of people who have taken religious vows or who have organized themselves in religious communities.
Private schools, colleges, and foundations — another special case of non-profit organizations with valuable land holdings
As a group across the country, these educational and philanthropic institutions own very large tracts of valuable, often beautiful and important land, at great distances from their home campuses. Some of these lands are not needed for the foreseeable needs of the institution. Officers and board members from time to time face difficult questions regarding “surplus” lands; they have a solemn fiduciary duty to preserve assets and to advance their institution’s mission. A controversy over the liquidation of a substantial process can divide the institution, damage its reputation, and disrupt essential fundraising. A well-organized process that carefully considers the value, character, and importance of the land involved can anticipate difficulties, prevent errors, and avoid fits and starts in moving forward to meet the institution’s need to monetize a non-productive asset. In some cases, a conservation-oriented sale may be the better approach.
Often the gift or sale of a permanent or term-limited conservation easement will be one of the options considered in these processes. I have drafted or critically reviewed more than 300 conservation easements and historic preservation restrictions in my work for a Massachusetts conservation and preservation group and as a private consultant. Any such legal document should be reviewed by a real estate attorney to ensure that it is legally sound and that its provisions are clearly set forth and understood by the client. My contribution as a non-attorney has been to adapt accepted models to the specific property, the goals of the landowner (Grantor) and the holder/recipient (Grantee). My long experience in this work has made me aware of the common pitfalls associated with easements and preservation restrictions, from the perspective of both Grantor landowner and Grantee organization.
How and with whom I work
I am a sole practitioner at present, but I generally prefer to work with the client (including relevant staff and legal and financial advisers) as a team. If additional legal, scientific, cartographic, financial, or organizational management expertise is needed, I can quickly assemble the right team. I keep hourly rates reasonable and affordable, with reductions for non-profit organizations. The first conversation with a potential client is without charge, other than for mileage or other travel expenses.
To be clear, I am known to be a knowledgeable and experienced conservation professional (check out my background on the About page), but I am not an attorney and do not provide legal advice. My expertise is land and conservation planning, conservation easements and related tools, and the art of “getting to yes.”