Tim Chitwood

Tim Chitwood: Waking from the sprawl nightmare

Folks today really need fancy global-positioning devices that tell them where they are, else they wouldn't know the difference.

Imagine you abruptly were dropped into another city's suburban sprawl. Could you look around and tell where you were?

One major intersection looks much like another: drugstores, fast-food joints, gas-station convenience stores, Dollar General, etc. -- often at an intersection so wide, with traffic coming from so many different directions, you don't dare try to cross on foot.

My nightmare is that's what will ring the city, one day, and I will need a GPS device to find my way around. (And someone will smash my car window to get the GPS device.)

Columbus over succeeding generations could spread into an Atlanta suburb, for 90 miles an uninterrupted swath of beer, burgers, bottled water and name-brand discounts.

Landowners around town have a chance to defy that "City of the Lost" by protecting their property with conservation easements secured through the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust, which will host "Nuts and Bolts of Conservation Easements" 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the W.C. Bradley Conference Room, the Front Avenue entrance to which is right off the raised crosswalk and framed by wrought-iron.

For $15 folks can register right up to the session's start, or call Paige Swift at 706-718-3324 or email pswift@galandtrust.org.

Other sponsors are the Georgia and Alabama land trusts, the Nature Conservancy and the Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership.

Though a conservation easement in perpetuity restricts development, it does not preclude other uses such as logging, farming or pasturing, fencing or building a barn or pond.

The landowner gets a tax deduction for donating the easement in a contract with the land trust, and the owner's property taxes may be reduced, too.

Some local landowners formed the trust in 2000 because of the "rapid sprawling development" that was eating our woods and creeks like a concrete Godzilla, leaving a wasteland of cracked asphalt and polluted water.

If nothing buffers the tributaries, nothing protects the river: Silt, trash, oil, fertilizer and pesticide flood the nearest slough like a rising tide of mud.

Thursday's seminar comes with a catered lunch, during which a panel discussion will include some landowners who've used conservation easements. The panel will be John Flournoy, Ashley Turner, Walter Miller, Ken Henson and Beth Dreelin.

Beyond derailing that nightmare future of endless sprawl, a conservation easement offers landowners another way to protect their progeny -- from federal estate taxes.

An easement shields surviving families. Some have been forced to sell because they could not afford the taxes after owners died.

Spring's a good time to look at the land here, and think about what it could be, or could have been.