Preston Crocket Mansion near Seven Mile Gorge in Virginia, USA

What Is a Conservation Easement?

Historic preservation planning is a serious issue for many Virginia communities. It is the systematic process by which your community develops goals and strategies for preserving and protecting its significant historic buildings, lands, and more, which can be challenging in Warrenton and all of Virginia; for this reason, professional legal advice is always a must.

Many types of private property, such as homes, specific tracts of land, and older buildings, are considered cultural and historic resources, and when privately owned, their historic and cultural significance usually must be maintained.

This is done by implementing specific strategies, which are developed based on analyses of historical data and the community values they represent.
Let’s say you own a historic home in Virginia. If you want to modify or restore it, you may have to adhere to specific guidelines.

Conservation easements are relatively flexible tools designed to comply with a property’s specific characteristics and the landowner’s interest in owning it. Rules must be adhered to to keep the property or building’s historical integrity intact while using the real estate productively.

For this reason, many towns in Virginia, including Warrenton, install and sponsor many conservation easement programs. These programs are varied and often legally complex. If you own, or plan to own, a property governed by these conditions, you must consult a Warrenton real estate lawyer to determine if the program and real estate are right for you and your intended use or modifications.

Have There Been Any Recent Changes to Virginia’s Historical Preservation Statutes?

Fairly recently, the Virginia General Assembly made a controversial change and addition to Virginia’s historic preservation statute (VA Code Section 15.2-2306). Before this change was made, the Code of Virginia allowed a locality to adopt or amend specific zoning ordinances to designate specific historic districts and landmarks. They would create a historic review board to administer these ordinances and ensure that this landmark review board must first approve alterations or any development in historic districts.

However, with the recent change, the General Assembly added the following vocabulary to this statute.

“The governing body may provide in the ordinance that any applicant must submit documentation that any development in an area of known historical or archaeological significance will preserve or accommodate the historical or archaeological resources.”

Although this addition seems to require landowners or developers to simply provide additional documentation, it gives the localities vague and much broader authority to determine the use of significantly more land.

The locality may now have more power to demand that the private property owner accommodate these “historic resources,” but the law doesn’t specifically outline these “accommodations.”

Also, these new statutes and rules don’t just impose new requirements on historic districts or landmarks legally designated through a “public process.” Instead, these requirements apply to an “area of the locality, which is possibly of known historical significance.”

So, if you own an older building or land, the law is very vague about who precisely decides where these “areas” are and what the specific boundaries or rules may be.

This legal modification of the statute has effectively expanded its reach beyond the legally designated historic districts and landmarks and added possibly undesignated and undefined areas of significance.

The Commonwealth of Virginia spans nearly four hundred years. Therefore, if you’re buying or already own older property or land, you may not find yourself facing new rules that now restrict its use, development, or more. Therefore, the advice and legal guidance of a skilled Virginia real estate lawyer is mandatory.

Can My Property Rights be Challenged in Warrenton, Virginia?

The simple answer is yes, they can. For example, “adverse possession (a legal doctrine developed in England) is designed to provide a fair and legal means of use (or ownership) if an owner has forgotten about a piece of land, but another party is caring for it.

You must remember that Virginia was one of our original colonies and has been home to Americans since the United States was founded.

Therefore, you must protect your property rights, especially if you have neighbors whose land borders yours. These neighbors may cross your property line and use portions of your land.

Under Virginia law, these neighbors may also gain legal title to these portions of your property using the doctrine of “adverse possession.”
So, to ensure your land remains yours, you must get professional legal guidance on this matter and on all aspects of Virginia’s laws on adverse possession.

This is only one example of how land owned in Virginia for hundreds of years can have legal issues that would never occur in many other states with more current property lines and laws.

Can Eminent Domain Affect My Property Rights in Virginia?

In Warrenton and all of Virginia, eminent domain allows the government power to take your property, even if you do not intend to sell it. However, the Fifth Amendment has specific rules that must be followed to mandate its use. One of these stipulations is that the property must be used for “public use.” This usually refers to projects such as highways, bridges, etc.

However, when the state governments attempt to use eminent domain, they must compensate you. Still, many times (especially in today’s real estate markets), this “compensation” may be totally inadequate and under the current “market value.”

So, if it can be legally fought, your skilled Warrenton real estate lawyer may argue that this abuse of eminent domain deprives you, as the property owner, of your legal rights and financial security.

I Have a Real Estate Issue in Warrenton; How Should I Proceed?

Warrenton and many other places in Virginia are wonderful places for you and your family to live. However, due to the state’s lengthy existence in our history, it’s not uncommon to have property rights and development challenged for its historical value and more.

Therefore, before you buy, sell, or plan to develop any properties, the prudent and wise move is to consult with a qualified, proven, and experienced Warrenton real estate lawyer.

The Warrenton-based real estate lawyers at Ashwell & Ashwell are highly experienced in all these local and state issues. They have the knowledge and resources to successfully assist you in property rights challenges, complex transactions, or complying with historic district restrictions or complications.

Call them today at 540-386-1277 for a full consultation on your unique case. They will tirelessly and diligently help you find the best possible solution to your real estate problems.

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