Earlier this week the Chilmark selectmen accepted a conservation restriction on a property along Middle Road. The 7.1-acre parcel, owned by Thelma Cossutta, was left to the Vineyard Conservation Society as a bequest in her will with the intent that VCS would record a CR preserving the land and eliminating the possibility of subdivision. The property adds a key piece to conserved lands in the area, with town and land bank property abutting to the east, and other CR land granted to the town of Chilmark located to the north and west.

A CR is a contract between a property owner and a third party — in this case, the town of Chilmark — which preserves important natural attributes of the property and specifies what development, if any, may occur in the future.

Conservationists have a limited set of tools to save land, and CRs are considered to be a no-brainer. What could be better, they argue, than protecting a parcel of beautiful rural upland from development (or further development, as the case may be). I happen to agree but, in fairness, the matter is far more complicated.

Fiscal watchdogs make the argument that private land subject to a CR is typically assessed at a lower value than it would be without the restriction, since the restriction often prohibits further subdivision, thus reducing development potential. And, so the argument goes, the property will generate less tax revenue with the difference to be made up by other taxpayers.

But the focus on tax revenues, it seems to me, is somewhat myopic. Holding land in conservation has demonstrable benefits. Often, adjacent properties realize an increase in value. By placing land in conservation, towns like Chilmark are more likely to remain attractive to residents and visitors alike. And for Chilmarkers especially, who deeply treasure their town’s rural character, an increase in the amount of protected land must be accorded some value.

More complicated, but no less important, are the benefits to ecosystems and natural assets. Clearly, land in conservation does not fragment habitats or pose the sort of contamination risks to ground and surface water associated with some forms of development. All of these benefits have a positive value which, although hard to quantify, is no less real than a potential loss of tax revenue.

Thank you to the Cossutta family, and thank you to town boards, including the tax assessors and selectmen, for again recognizing the value of open land by unanimously endorsing the new CR.

Joan Malkin

The writer is a board member for the Vineyard Conservation Society and a member of the Chilmark conservation commission.