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Suburban landowner fights for “Conservation Yard”

Yes Virginia, Conservation Increases Property Values!

As I reflect on the pictures of my current and former home taken today, March 6, 2008, it is hard for me to believe that it has been almost twenty years since my wife and I moved into our first home in the Mill Creek subdivision near Charlottesville, Virginia. Eager to put my degree in Environmental Science from the University of Virginia to work in the management of my own property, I set about the task of establishing and restoring conservation qualities on my quarter acre lot. The simple joy of working in my yard was quickly replaced by a multi-year struggle to defend it against a firestorm of opposition that resulted in a file over an inch thick labeled “yard defense.” Amazingly, years after moving to our second home in the same subdivision with the same builder and same covenants, we endured a similar challenge. The photographs show the results (what one of my former students from my old neighborhood called “that cool house in the woods,” not knowing that I had lived there and planted the trees) of our perseverance, including voluntary compromises made. I may at a later time provide the details of our trials and tribulations if that would be helpful to folks who find, or fear they might find, themselves in similar circumstances.

When we bought our first home in 1989 (with a yard that was largely bare dirt with straw on it), our neighborhood was described in ads by the builder as a “country setting,” with homes “nestled in secluded wooded lots.” The covenants that we signed in good faith call simply for “reasonable maintenance of lawn and property.” We maintain to this day that our property management at both locations has been, and is, reasonable. The trees and other plants we put in, and allowed to seed, on our property grew so well that in four years a cardinal, our state bird, perched in our front yard (it took me a while to realize that the vehemence directed at our property was primarily associated with the fact that we treated our entire property equally, front and back). Three years later, in 1996, we sold our first home to a couple who selected our house over several comps in the neighborhood precisely because of our yard management. They were willing to pay a premium for our lot, this after our real estate agent had suggested “trimming it up a little.” This was my first direct experience with conservation real estate in the sense that it allows for conservation values and property values to be mutually supportive. I also learned that you don’t sell your property to a real or perceived market, but to a buyer.

- John Hermsmeier

John Hermsmeier is an environmental science teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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