This land trust protected a 'little paradise'

Title issues may feel arcane or esoteric compared to joy of finalizing a donation of land. But such due diligence can be critical for sound conservation.

By Lorri Barrett February 14

Take, for example, the case of Victoria Van Loon, who granted in 2000 an easement to Grand River Partners in Ohio for her wooded creekside property. She was in her eighties at the time and her health was starting to fail her. By 2002, a long-time friend and relative was appointed her guardian and she sold her conserved property.

Shortly after closing, the buyer met with the executive director of Grand River Partners and informed him that Van Loon was not competent to grant the easement and he had proof. The land trust rejected the notion that Van Loon had been less than competent at the time of transfer and said it was ready to defend the property in court. That same year, the executive director wrote a memorandum for the land trust describing the two years that he spent working with Van Loon on the easement. He explained how she considered her property a “little paradise” and noted how frustrated she was with the dwindling green space in her area.

Those who remembered Van Loon knew how devoted she was to conservation. After her husband died at 40 from a rare form of cancer, she took solace in the natural beauty around her home, creating art celebrating that beauty. When she retired, she dedicated her time to protecting the land that had consoled her and inspired her throughout her life. Moreover, she advocated tirelessly for green spaces, gathering signatures for referendums and speaking out against unnecessary development projects.

But after Grand River Partners merged with Western Reserve Land Conservancy in 2009, the buyer took his claim to court. He argued the chain of title had been broken and Western Reserve lacked the authority to enforce the easement. The trial court judge dismissed the claim, finding that the law clearly supported Western Reserve as the successor and the land trust had every right to monitor and enforce the easement.

The property — Van Loon’s “little paradise” — is still conserved today. And Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a Land Trust Alliance member, is now part of Terrafirma Risk Retention Group LLC so it won’t have to fight future battles alone.