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Land, and Legal Land Issues.

My thoughts this week have been on land.
This weekend I discovered a bunch of old pictures of our family farm, Rotherwood, on my computer. It is always a weird sensation when I think of Rotherwood- a part of me, I will carry deeply with me always, yet dead. I was in my late 20s when the farm I had grown up with since birth, told I would one day pass on to my children, was sold to my uncles.

But enough about that, you get up, work hard, and get your own darned piece of earth. It will never be Rotherwood, but it's ours and they can't take it away.

To say it has made us keenly aware of inheritance issues for our own children (and their children) is an understatement.

We have had many discussions with farming friends about how they plan to handle their own land inheritance. Dividing up property will only expose it to future sale and then development. How to protect, preserve, and pass on to the next generation in a way that envisions they work together, not feud?

My friend Steve has one way of addressing this: "Whomever is working the farm when we die, gets the farm."

Virginia's land conservation easements are generous. Maybe some of you "green construction lawyers" reading this should include land conservation in your practice area... I expect you to. Green building is not just about urban infill. But it still does not satisfy the issue of passing on the land to future generations.

My musing took a new twist when I considered the implications for a cohousing smart growth intentional community.

Suppose a group of five families pools their resources to build a smart growth, co-housing community on fifty acres. Smart growth principles have the homes clustered together to foster community, shared spaces, community recreation and other buildings (why have a guest room in each home when you can have a guest lodge for all the families?), with the remaining property dedicated to wildlife, walking trails, and other preservation means.

This raised my curiousity: Each family is not purchasing a "lot", they are all sharing in on a parcel of land. Do lawyers have recommendations on how smart growth communities can protect and pass on their philosophy to future owners or generations?

Lawyers, I'd love to hear from you... : )

P.s. My friend Mason's family lived in a similar intentional community beginning in the '60s in Sewanee, Tennesee. I will see if he has thoughts on his family's experiences as well in a group of friends pooling resources to purchase rural property and how they passed it on.

You also might enjoy learning about Monteagle Assembly, founded in the 1880s, and still in existence. There are some great pictures here, and I stayed there for Mason & Anna's wedding and experienced myself the wonderful shared community buildings, gorgeous landscape, bridges, walking trails and charming cottages that are there today.

(Here's the above link as a slideshow as this cute couple walked all over the grounds- I recommend you browse through the larger version! Beautiful smart growth space!)

Monteagle Assembly, TN

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At 1/29/09, 1:12 AM , Blogger d said...

Glad the Casa Ti is progressing. I'm having enough fun on House A, so I'm letting you work it all out before we commission a Casa Ti for House B. (see

Anyway, I am sorry about your family farm. My husband and I bought into what you are dreaming about in your post - two lovely former Yankee schoolteachers bought 300 acres of the most bee-u-tee-ful land bordering the Monagahela 25 years ago, just below Spruce Knob, WV. They have no kids and wanted to preserve the land, so they came up with my dream solution: Create 6 privately-owned parcels of 7 acres each and leave the rest of it as jointly-owned common space with all kinds of use and conservation easements on it. If you build it, the likeminded will come... (insert sound of peaceful music being interrupted by the needle scratching across the record). I will summarize by saying that in the future, I would require anyone wanting to be part of such a commune to go through some kind of hippie lovey dovey, preferably naked moonlight swim ritual because people will sound nice and then they'll move in and become total ASSHOLES. (Sorry, so sorry for the language). You want to know just how committed people are to each other and to the dream before you agree to own something with them. When we signed the agreement to buy into our little WV commune, as a lawyer, I thought the conservation easement and rules were too loose with too few restrictions and not enough enforcement mechanisms, but goodness, there were only 4 owners total, and we were all essentially buying into a commune, and so I didn't say anything. Sadly, the buyers of two of the lots (they joined them) turned out to be total holier-than-thou This Land Is My Land...And So Is The Common Space nightmares. The spirit of the agreement means nothing to these folks. "You want NOTICE before I hunt on the common space?! Why?!" (Oh, because I could be going for a walk and you might shoot me...) They don't abide by the noise restrictions, they knowingly violated the dwelling size and height restrictions, they love their loud polluting yard equipment and firing guns. And because the deed was so loose with essentially no recourse but to sue them, that is exactly what they told us to do if we wanted to enforce anything. They ruined the dream for everyone (i feel especially badly for the original owners who get to feud with these two full time.)

Anyway, a long-winded way of telling you, as a lawyer, that we are much more useful up front and you will accomplish more by having really clear language and really clear and painful stipulated penalties that will accrue for violating the rules. I don't think good fences make good neighbors (neither did Frost), but I absolutely believe that good deeds do. (In both senses).



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