Mass. Conservation Land Not Taxable, SJC Rules

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The highest court in Massachusetts has ruled that conservation land in the state is not subject to property taxes, a setback to cities and towns eyeing a new revenue stream.

The Supreme Judicial Court's unanimous decision issued Thursday was a victory for groups including the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which worried that a loss would impede their ability to buy land and protect it from development if they were forced to pay taxes.

Frank Lowenstein, deputy director of the New England Forestry Foundation, which brought the case in response to a $173 tax bill, says the ruling has implications for other land owners in cities and towns with higher property taxes.

"The bills to land trusts in towns like Barnstable on the Cape, in the Vineyard and some of the Boston suburbs, would have been astronomical," Lowenstein said.

The town of Hawley unsuccessfully argued that the Forestry Foundation was already getting a 90 percent property tax break.

Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the decision could financially burden many communities.

With reporting by the WBUR Newsroom and The Associated Press.