Cultural Heritage Conservation Easements

Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate, was preserved thanks in part to conservation easements
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was preserved thanks in part to conservation easements

Jessica Owley of SUNY Buffalo has posted a piece examining the use of conservation easements in the context of Cultural Heritage Protection. From the abstract:

Conservation easements are quickly becoming a favored tool for protection of cultural heritage. Perpetual encumbrances on the use of private land, most cultural heritage conservation easements are held by private conservation organizations known as land trusts. With minimal public oversight, land trusts decide which lands to protect in perpetuity and what the rules regarding use of those lands should be. A variety of concerns arise when protection of cultural heritage resides with private organizations. First, as governments abdicate cultural heritage protection to private organizations, the public’s role in site protection shifts. When private organizations and landowners negotiate which properties to protect and how to protect them, some culturally important sites go unprotected. Privatizing protection of cultural sites may reduce the ability of some members of the public to become involved in the decision of what to protect as well as hamper public oversight and enforcement of land-use restrictions. It may even reduce overall protection as public entities remove themselves from the cultural heritage protection game, ceding the territory to land trusts. Second, private perpetual restrictions problematize the balance between intergenerational rights and present responsibilities. Reverence of past cultural events and properties may hamper future growth as users of conservation easements restrict properties in perpetuity without enabling communities to revisit or modify the restrictions. Third, conservation easements may be protecting sites that were not in danger of exploitation. In such cases, conservation easements subsidize landowners with questionable public benefits. Finally, using conservation easements to protect sacred sites commoditizes cultural heritage. Paying people to protect cultural heritage could degrade cultural heritage or civic responsibility.

  1. Jessica Owley, Cultural Heritage Conservation Easements: The Problem of Using Property Law Tools for Heritage Protection (2015), http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2243129.

 

 

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