Three Spectacular Parties for Preservation! Learn more →

Preservation Easement Program

Did you know that preservation easements are arguably the most powerful preservation tool available in the United States?

Donating an easement to the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN can help guarantee the preservation and maintenance of your historic home, building, or landscape in perpetuity.

The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN has privately accepted and held easements on properties like Pioneer’s Corner and 304 Public Square, among several others, for a number of years. After speaking with stewards of historic resources throughout Williamson County, we learned that many property owners feared what may happen to their beloved historic homes should they ever need to sell their property. This need is particularly urgent in areas that are not protected by local Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) and are faced with an immense amount of development pressure.

After becoming acutely aware of the need for more preservation resources in the unincorporated areas of Williamson County, the Heritage Foundation decided to expand and fortify its Preservation Easement Program as a part of its Preserve Williamson initiative. The program fulfills a central part of the Heritage Foundation’s mission to preserve the places and spaces that give Williamson County its unique sense of place.

For more information about our Preservation Easement Program, please contact Anna Marcum, Senior Director of Preservation, at amarcum@williamsonheritage.org.

What is a preservation easement?

A preservation easement is a type of conservation easement— a private, legal agreement between a property owner and a qualified nonprofit organization, like the Heritage Foundation, or governmental agency, such as the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), for the purpose of protecting a historic property's significant architectural and landscape features. Preservation easements may also be referred to as "preservation covenants" or "preservation restrictions.” These terms are often used interchangeably. 

A preservation easement is recorded with the deed and local land records. This agreement grants the easement holder certain rights and responsibilities required of perpetual preservation. A preservation easement does not prevent future sales, leases, or estate planning. Preservation easements are tailored to the unique needs of each historic property and property owner. They can prohibit demolition, prevent lot subdivision, preserve and maintain historic exterior elevations, landscape features, and even interior features, floor plans, finishes, and more if so desired.

Why donate a preservation easement?

A preservation easement is the most ironclad method of protecting a privately owned historic resource. Preservation easements are a particularly crucial preservation tool in areas that have no municipal preservation regulations. Even if a property is in a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), the boundaries and regulations of an HPOZ may be significantly altered over time or eliminated altogether. Preservation easements not only protect against the demolition and/or subdivision of the protected area, but they also provide for project review with the Heritage Foundation to ensure that any proposed changes to the historic home, building, or landscape are carried out sensitively and do not damage or destroy protected features.  

Why donate to the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN?

The Heritage Foundation’s Preservation Easement Program fills a void in preservation regulation throughout Williamson County. As an illustration of our unwavering commitment to preserving the character of Williamson County, the Heritage Foundation will accept easements without the requirement to include a substantial monetary gift in tandem with the easement donation. We are one of the few preservation organizations nationwide to accept easements free of charge.  

Owners of properties with Heritage Foundation easements will have access to Heritage Foundation preservation staff at any time to provide technical preservation assistance and further expertise on historic properties.  The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County takes a pragmatic approach to historic preservation. Our easements allow for seamless general maintenance and upgrades to historic properties. Projects that may impact character defining features will be stewarded by the Heritage Foundation preservation team to make sure that the property owner can make the changes they desire in a manner that appropriately preserves the historic resource.  

The Heritage Foundation Preservation Easement Program is modeled after the Historic New England Preservation Easement Program, one of the oldest and most respected preservation easement programs in the United States, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans Easement Program, and the best practices for easement-holding organizations set forth by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

What properties are eligible for the Heritage Foundation’s Preservation Easement Program?

Properties are evaluated for eligibility on a case-by-case basis by the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County. As a rule of thumb, properties that are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places will likely be eligible for the Heritage Foundation Preservation Easement Program.   

FAQs

How is a preservation easement different from a conservation easement? 

- A preservation easement is a type of conservation easement protecting the historic built environment in tandem with the historic landscape. Conservation easements generally protect solely the natural environment.

My historic home sits on a large parcel of land. Can a preservation easement protect just the home and a small portion of the surrounding land or does it have to protect the full parcel? 

- A preservation easement is an exceptionally versatile preservation tool – it can protect as much or as little as the property owner desires. For example, if a property owner would like to donate an easement on their 1835 farmhouse but the home sits on 250 acres of land that the owner would prefer to leave out of the easement, the Heritage Foundation would recommend that the 1835 farmhouse with a conservation buffer of 15 acres be included in the easement. This can be tailored to meet the specific needs of the property and the donor.

What are the exact regulations in a preservation easement? 

- The exact regulations of each preservation easement vary from property to property as each easement is tailored to the specific needs of each historic site. All Heritage Foundation easements protect all historic façade elevations of the primary historic structure on the property along with a conservation buffer. Additional restrictions are determined based on the architectural integrity of the property and the desires of the donor. For instance, an easement on a large antebellum mansion that retains a great deal of its interior architectural character will be extremely different than an easement on a vernacular Victorian farmhouse that has seen several changes to the interior. 

Are there any tax benefits for donating a preservation easement? 

- According to the Internal Revenue Code, an income tax deduction may be available for a preservation easement protecting a certified historic structure or a historically important land area. A property is considered a certified historic structure if it is a building, structure, or land area individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places, or if it is a building located in a registered historic district and is certified by the National Park Service as contributing to the historic significance of that district.  Once the easement donation is finalized, the value attributed to the easement may be claimed as a charitable contribution deduction from Federal income tax.  The value of the easement is generally the difference between the appraised fair market value of the property prior to conveying an easement and the appraised fair market value of the property after the easement. This income tax deduction may be utilized in tandem with Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. *Please note that the information offered by the Heritage Foundation is intended to provide general guidance only. The advice and assistance of a knowledgeable attorney, tax advisor, appraiser, and/or other professionals should be sought prior to utilizing this tax deduction. 

More to Explore

2024 Sites to Save List

The Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, TN, has compiled its fourth annual Sites to Save list, which seeks to identify historic places in Williamson County that are vulnerable to demolition, development or neglect.

K - 12 Preservation & Education Resources

The goal of the Heritage Foundation's Education department is to ignite a passion in the leaders of tomorrow to love, advocate, and support local history and preservation efforts! Check out our preservation resources for our aspiring preservationists!

Preserve Williamson

Preserve Williamson harnesses the power of historic places across Williamson County by advocating for the preservation of our historic cultural and natural resources for the benefit of all citizens.