Land Preservation FAQ's

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Land Preservation Frequently Asked Questions - History
For a map of preserved land click here 

How long has Amherst been preserving land?
In 1940, the Town acquired more than 2,000 acres of land in Shutesbury and Pelham from the Amherst Water Company to protect its surface water supply reservoirs. The Town began its open space and farmland protection efforts with purchases along the Mill River in 1963. Since then, Amherst has amassed 1,965 acres of conservation land, and has been integral to the acquisition of Agricultural Preservation Restrictions on 1,842 acres of farmland on 32 properties and an additional 157 acres protected by Conservation Restrictions. Amherst also holds approximately 2,600 acres in Amherst, Belchertown, Pelham, and Shutesbury to protect local watersheds that supply Amherst with much of its drinking water.

How many acres are preserved?
The town has a total of 5,407 permanently protected acres:
  • Agricultural Preservation Restrictions– 2,038
  • Commonwealth of Massachusetts (DCR) – 935
  • Conservation – 1,828
  • Conservation Restrictions – 178
  • Recreation – 126
  • Water Department – 310

And a total of 3,095 of partially protected acres: 
  • Chapter 61, 61A, 61B – 2640
  • Subdivision Open Space – 75
  • Schools – 108
  • Private Land Trusts – 272

Is recreational land permanently protected?
Yes and no – permanent protection depends on what sources of funding were used to purchase the land.  Town recreational areas such as Groff Park or Mill River Recreation Areas are permanently protected.

Are school lands permanently protected?
School land is partially protected based on how the school land is zoned.

Who is responsible for protecting land in Amherst?
Dave Ziomek, Director of Conservation and Development, is the town staff member responsible for bringing forth conservation development.

What committees are involved in land protection in Amherst?
The Conservation Commission and the Agricultural Commission are the two bodies in Amherst most involved in land conservation.  Land conservation projects are brought to these bodies by staff for their review and ultimate recommendation to town meeting.  Other boards and committees may weigh in.   Request for funding for land preservation go through the community Preservation Act Committee.

What are sources of funding the town uses to pay for land conservation?
The following forms of municipal public funding are available: 
    Community Preservation Act (CPA)

The following forms of Federal and State Public Grants are available:  
  • Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services
  • Land and Park Grants, Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services
  • Massachusetts DEP Watershed Protection Grants

The following Private Foundation sources of funding:

What are the town’s priorities for land conservation?
The Town of Amherst is focusing land preservation efforts on protecting farmland and prime agricultural soils, as well as those areas identified as priority habitat (for rare and endangered species), containing valuable natural resources, watershed lands that supply Amherst’s drinking water, and areas with large contiguous blocks of undeveloped open space.   Click here to view the Open Space Plan

What guides the town’s approach to land conservation?
Protected land is essential to Amherst‘s appearance, economy, and well-being. Conservation land helps maintain the town‘s rural character, provides adequate land area for traditional and modern forms of outdoor recreation, and protects important wildlife habitat for both game and non-game species. Protected farmland provides a permanent base on which present and future farm businesses depend, and helps farm supported (i.e. grain/dairy processing, equipment repairs) businesses maintain a significant presence in Amherst and adjacent towns. Protected land also ensures clean water for wells and reservoirs supplying Town drinking water. 

Identification and prioritization of these lands has determined the following sites to be critical to wildlife habitat, natural resource protection, and community enjoyment:  The Pulpit Hill area, the Cushman Brook green belt, the Plum Brook green belt, the Mount Holyoke Range, including land south of Bay Road from the Belchertown line to the Hadley line.

Land Preservation Frequently Asked Questions – How do I

What are the steps necessary to preserving land?
Contact Dave Ziomek by email or phone to discuss your options.  This is followed by a meeting with decision makers in your family about wishes and goals for the project; the town then conducts an appraisal to establish the fair market value of your land; options are then discussed relative to the approach to conservation:

  • Agricultural Preservation Restriction:  The APR program allows the State, Town or combination of the two, to purchase the development rights on farmland in order to preserve the land’s use for agriculture.  This voluntary program buys the development rights from the farmer or landowner, which is the difference between the fair market value of the land and the agricultural value of the property.
  • Conservation Restriction:  A binding agreement under Mass General Law (MGL) that permanently protects land by limiting development on a property by placing conditions (restrictions) on how that property can be used in the future.
  • Fee Acquisition:  The outright purchase of the property for conservation purposes.
  • Or, a combination of the above.

Can I gift land to the town?
Yes, gifts of land are deductible to fullest extent allowed by law.

Can I keep some and preserve the rest?
Yes, it is possible to preserve part of your property and retain or develop a portion that is excluded from the project.

How long does it take to preserve my land?
The length of time depends on the approach or conservation strategies used.  A gift to the Town of Amherst could take a few weeks.  Larger more complex projects could take a year or more.

How will the town manage my land once it is preserved?
The town has a small conservation staff that is responsible for managing land.  The staff develops a management plan for each new parcel, which includes surveying, ecological assessment, developing a management plan and then managing to that plan.  Grassland is managed more actively than a vernal pool. As Town staff develop a management strategy, property owners may aid in the process by expressing their goals and visions for the land to let staff know their conservation priorities.

What is an APR or CR?
An APR is an Agricultural Preservation Restriction; CR is a Conservation Restriction.

Once I’ve preserved my land what legal protection does it have?
APR and CR have perpetual legal protection under article 97; land enrolled under Chapter 61 must be re-enrolled every year for Chapter 61A and B, and every ten years for Chapter 61.

I’m not ready for permanent preservation, but, I’m interested in Chapter 61 – what does that mean?
Chapter 61 places land in a tax assessment category where owner is taxed at a lower tax bracket while the land remains enrolled in the Chapter 61 program. The Chapter 61 program provides tax relief for a temporary term of 5 or 10 years if the land is used for any of the following three categories: recreation, forestry and agriculture.  Please click here to learn more about Chapter 61

If I preserve my land, can I get it back?
No, once land is permanently preserved, it cannot revert to private lands.

APR or CR – What if I change my mind?
The town staff will work with you during the preservation process to decide which is the right tool to use – APR or CR.

If APR or CR on property, can I stipulate what can and cannot be done in future?
The state APR program is rigid in their definition of what is considered agricultural use and what can and cannot be done on and APR farm.  With a Conservation Restriction, the state holds or permanently protects, the development rights of the property while the restrictions are determined by each Town;  a CR has more inherent flexibility.

Does Amherst acquire land in other towns?
Yes, under certain circumstances such as for the purpose of watershed protection.

Land Preservation Frequently Asked Questions – Financial

Are there tax benefits if I preserve my land?
There are after tax benefits to the owner for preserving ones land.  It always best to consult a lawyer or financial planner for specifics.

Are there any costs to the land owner when selling to town?
The town assumes most of the financial burden of making projects happen in Amherst.  Land owners may assume some costs for legal fees and surveying.

How does the town decide on the value of my land?
The town conducts an independent, third party appraisal of any parcel it is considering for preservation.

Does preserving my land affect my tax liability to the town?
Yes, the town assessment of your property would reflect the new value of land based on APR, CR, or land placed in Chapter 61.

Land Preservation Frequently Asked Questions – Partners

Does the town ever partner with other organizations on conservation projects?
Yes, through the years the Kestrel Trust has played a key role in dozens of projects in Amherst. The Town also partners with other local land trusts and non-profit organizations such as the Valley Land Trust and the Hitchcock Center, and will partner with neighboring communities to protect land.