The University of Virginia Foundation is protecting around 1,150 acres of land near Monticello by putting it under a conservation easement.
The rural property adjacent to the historic Morven Farm, known as Morven East, was acquired by the foundation in 2001 as part of a gift by the late John W. Kluge. The property, which was recently renovated, was originally part of a 10,000-acre grant to John Carter, the son of Robert “King” Carter, the Virginia colony’s most powerful landowner. The easement also brings the number of county acres under easement to more than 105,000.
The conservation easement, which is valued at $3,750,000, according to the foundation, will limit the development of the property; without the easement, up to 74 dwellings could have potentially been built on the site.
“In terms of the history of Albemarle County and of course, the Commonwealth and the nation, this is a fairly important area, and we did not want to do anything that would be disruptive to the character of that community,” said UVa Foundation CEO Tim Rose.
A conservation easement is a permanent agreement between a landowner and a conservation organization, or an easement holder, that allows the landowner to retain ownership of the land but places certain expectations on how the land will be managed.
Large portions of the property, known as Morven East, are visible from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the property is near Highland, James Monroe’s home. The property is also located in the Southern Albemarle Rural Historic District.
“This property has long been on a list of properties that the original owner John Kluge had intended for UVa to sell, and we may eventually sell it,” said UVa Rector Jim Murray. “Before we do, we’re minimizing the amount of development that can occur there, and we’re doing it in an effort to fulfill UVa’s new strategic mission, which is to be a good neighbor for the entire community, for everyone.”
Murray said many in Albemarle are concerned about sprawl and subdividing the rural area. The Morven easement is a way that UVa can avoid contributing to sprawl.
“It will be a major plus for the tourism industry and those visiting Monticello,” he said.
Kevin J. Fay, chairman of the UVa Foundation Board of Directors, said sustainability is an important part of the foundation’s mission and how it guides its activities.
“We just think it’s important that we try to make sure that the property is utilized in a manner that we think the donor had wanted it to be used, but also something that’s in keeping with what the community is looking for as well,” he said. “We think the conservation easements do that — they allow some limited development, but otherwise preserve the preserve the property and the nature of the property. We think that’s very important to both the university and to the community.”
The Albemarle Conservation Easement Authority voted to accept the easement in October. The deed was fully executed as of Wednesday and was later recorded, but a copy was not available by press time.
The Morven East property has 374 acres of soils designated as “prime” and 565 acres of soils designated as “locally important” for agriculture in Albemarle, and has approximately 11,186 linear feet of streams that are part of the Buck Island Creek Watershed, which feeds into the Rivanna River.
In 2019, through Albemarle’s acquisition of conservation easements program, rural preservation development preservation tracts and the county’s Conservation Easement Authority about 6,206 acres were protected and 606 potential dwelling units in the rural area were eliminated.
The largest easement, finalized in 2019, was donated by James C. Justice Cos. for 4,500 acres in July, eliminating 450 potential dwelling units.
The county also has four approved easement proposals in process, which could conserve another 206 acres and eliminate 16 potential dwelling units.