The nonprofit Wellesley Conservation Land Trust is highlighting a Massachusetts Appeals Court decision that could result in the trust receiving monetary damages stemming from destruction of protected property by Wellesley landowners.
The Pembroke Road landowners several years back had more than 20 mature trees removed to make way for a lighted sports court on property they acquired adjacent to the land on which their home sits.
The landowners acknowledged violating the Wellesley conservation restriction, and wound up removing the court and planting saplings to offset the clear-cutting, according to an Appeals Court document from Aug. 10, when the case was decided.
The decision establishes new case precedent under which such a defendant may be required to pay damages in addition to restoring land.
The Wellesley Conservation Land Trust, formerly known as Wellesley Conservation Council, initially brought the case to the Superior Court in its role as enforcer of a restriction put on the land’s use by the previous owners in the 1970s. Such restrictions give property owners a tax break since they can’t develop the land.
“The purpose of the Wellesley Conservation Land Trust is the conservation of open space for the enjoyment and benefit of the public. Incidental to this purpose is monitoring of property directed to the care of the Trust in accord with the terms of a Conservation Restriction if the property is not owned by the Trust,” says Fred Fortmiller, president of the land trust. Violations are uncommon, he says, and are usually due to ignorance, not done with intent.
The trust appealed the Superior Court’s ruling that the property owner’s effort to undo its conservation restriction violation was compensation enough. Now the case goes back to the Superior Court where the plaintiff plans to seek monetary damages that would be used for further conservation efforts.
Wellesley Conservation Land Trust was supported in its legal efforts by The Trustees of Reservations and the Massachusetts Land Trust Alliance.