Chestnut Hill property owners may soon have a greater incentive to permanently preserve their land and historic buildings.

That’s because the Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS), which sponsors a conservation easement program that protects 68 acres throughout the city and its suburbs, is one step closer to achieving accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission (LTAC). The LTAC approved the Historical Society’s pre-application earlier this month and welcomed it to submit a full application, which CHHS did yesterday.

“What accreditation does is recognize that the Historical Society is meeting national standards,” says Jennifer Hawk, executive director of CHHS. “That lets the community know that we’re a trustworthy organization, which is helpful, since it’s a pretty big decision for property owner to give up future development rights.” By donating these rights to CHHS, property owners promise to never subdivide or develop their land, thus protecting Chestnut Hill’s iconic natural habitat. (They often enjoy a tax deduction, too.)

CHHS has toiled for the past two years on its accreditation applications. Yesterday’s submission filled three binders, which the LTAC will now scour for law compliance, public accountability, communication with property owners, board member involvement and much more.  The LTAC will let CHHS know if it’s been accredited within 6 to 8 months.

If successful, the Historical Society will be one of the only accredited urban land trusts in the country. “It is rare,” says Laura DiBetta, program manager of LTAC. “There’s also one in Athens, Ga. that’s accredited.”

But Hawk is looking toward a much different future: She believes that land trust accreditation will soon be the norm; the LTAC, which has been incorporated since 2006, has accredited more than 100 trusts so far. “Soon, I don’t think you’ll be viewed as professional unless you’re accredited,” she says. Also, the Land Trust Alliance — which the LTAC is an independent program of — is exploring the possibility of forming an insurance fund. If CHHS wanted to buy in, being accredited could only help.

If you’d like to add your two cents about how well CHHS meets LTAC standards, a public comment period is open through about January 3, 2011. Visit landtrustaccreditation for more information, or send written, signed comments to  Land Trust Accreditation Commission, Attn:  Public Comments, 518-587-3183; 112 Spring Street, Suite 204, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 12866.


for NewsWorks