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Building on Conservancy Land

Story of the red balloon

“Can you see it now?”

“Nope.” I’m standing on the road with Candy and Sue. They’re siblings, both retired. We’re going to build their home here on this beautiful piece of land. Wayne is back there somewhere, holding a long string tied to a red helium balloon. He’s bushwhacking his way through tall brush, weaving between the trees, and talking into his cell phone. “How about now? Can you see it now?”

Debra Blessman of Select Home Design designed the home. She's standing on the road with Candy and Sue and me, all of us peering into the woods. “Where are you now?” she says into the speakerphone.

“I’m standing in the middle of that sweet spot we marked,” says Wayne. “I’m parallel with the big live oak. I’ve let the string all the way out to 18 feet.”

Debra turns and explains, “That’s the height of the roof."

Frank Davis, Director of Land Conservation for the Hill Country Conservancy nods. He paces up the road to see if he can spot Wayne's red balloon at the tree tops. The purpose of today’s exercise is to ensure we situate the house in such a way that it’s not clearly visible from the nearby public road, a requirement for building on this particular piece of conservation land, managed by the Hill Country Conservancy.

Frank comes back down the road and joins us.  “I think we’re good,” he says, grinning.

“Okay, I’m coming in,” says Wayne. “Oh damn," he laughs over the phone, "I broke my balloon.”

***

What does this mean – conservancy land?

The property where this new home stands is connected to an older established neighborhood. However, Candy and Sue’s property is different – it’s part of a large parcel of land protected by a conservation agreement that was granted by its previous owners to Hill Country Conservancy. This voluntary land preservation agreement (commonly referred to as a conservation easement) ensures the natural character of the land is preserved, forever.

Land that has been preserved in its natural state rather than being fragmented into smaller parcels provides significantly better habitat, as well as natural filtration of rainwater, erosion prevention, clean air, and numerous other benefits that the natural world provides the community.

A conservation easement enables landowners to protect the natural resources they value while maintaining private ownership. In Texas, conservation easements are generally donated to nonprofit conservation organizations, commonly known as land trusts. It’s a way to preserve private land in its natural state. Learn about conservations easements at Hill Country Conservancy and at Texas Land Trust Council.

What does it mean to build on such land?

You don’t have to live in a cabin with a dirt floor or haul creek water. Each conservation easement comes with its own, unique set of agreements, of course. The home at Blissful Oaks is a spacious, comfortable, energy-efficient home. It has a metal roof, 30,000-gallon rainwater tank, 6.2kW solar photovoltaic system, even an efficient spa/pool and surrounding deck nestled against a grove of trees. It’s designed for aging in place in terms of its layout, its accessible bathrooms, its plentiful space for long-term guests and future caretakers.

While planning and designing the home, we had to take care and abide by Conservancy guidelines and get their approval on our proposed site plan and the placement of the house. For example, we had to:  Survey and identify the trees in the area where we planned to build. Survey the property for possible sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage systems. Situate the house and driveway so as to minimize disruption of the terrain and prevent the removal of any significant trees. Guard against erosion when clearing the driveway, digging the septic field, and constructing the home. Plant any landscaping with hardy, native species. And so forth.

Actually, the conservation goals are very consistent with values the Solluna design/build team follows when planning and building any green home – careful, efficient, respectful use of resources all around.