Historic Preservation Easement Challenged in US and Virginia Courts
Congressmen Acknowledge Continuing Pattern of Park Service Abuse in Historic Districts
One of the most significant and unusual Property Rights cases of the last several decades is now before US and Virginia courts. Peter F. Blackman, who three years ago purchased Eastern View Farm in Louisa County, is contesting the validity of a purported historic preservation/conservation easement held by the US National Park Service (NPS). The NPS has, so far, stood in the way of Blackman’s efforts to repair, maintain and restore an 1850s farmhouse suffering from decades of neglect and abuse even though the terms of the easement required the house would “be maintained and preserved...”
The easement was conveyed in 1973 by one of Blackman’s predecessors to a local preservation organization, Historic Green Springs Incorporated (HGSI), a non-profit Virginia corporation. The alleged purpose of the easement was to preserve what historic preservationists have described as a “historic farm” and its “manor home” lying within the 14,000 acre Green Springs Historic District. In 1978, HGSI assigned Mr. Blackman’s easement, along with many other easements in the District, covering about 7000 acres, to the United States. The NPS claims authority to administer and enforce the terms of the purported easements it holds in the District. The terms vary substantially from one property to another, and some terms in the Blackman easement are vague and even contradictory.
The outcome of United States v. Blackman, filed in June, 2004, in the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville, may hinge on questions involving validity of the purported historic preservation easement; whether a negative easement in gross was cognizable under Common Law in Virginia in 1973; whether the purported easement could be lawfully conveyed to and accepted by the NPS; and whether the NPS claims of enforcement authority are barred by estoppel, waiver, acquiescence, abandonment and by breach of the easement’s terms.