Complex Infrastructure and Conservation Success

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Unique Places, LLC Closes Complex Real Estate Transaction While Conserving a Special Part of Rural North Carolina

Unique Places, LLC,, a land conservation, restoration and management firm, announced the completion of a series of complex, conservation-driven real estate transactions at the Swathmoor/Cates Family Farm located in Mebane, North Carolina, The 325-acre working farm, known by local residents as the “iconic farm north of town,” is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. What is particularly “unique” about this conservation project is that it helped to facilitate the NC Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) acquisition of land for the Highway 119 bypass and transferred productive agricultural lands to long-term farm stewards. The project also met the Cates Family heirs’ financial and land legacy goals.

“This project had so many moving parts and stakeholders,” commented Jeff Fisher, CEO of Unique Places. “For instance, we had to balance the interests of over 75 heirs from two different estates, the NCDOT, the City of Mebane and water quality protection agencies. These kinds of complex conservation projects, where public infrastructure and conservation are essential elements of a successful compromise, is where Unique Places creates the most value for our clients and the community.” For over 15 years, NCDOT, the Cates family and community members negotiated over where the Highway 119-bypass would cross the farm; Unique Places worked to discover the common interests of the stakeholders and created a plan to everyone’s benefit.

Unique Places is not a land conservancy, but instead is a for-profit company. Unique Places integrates land conservation principles to create revenue generation opportunities for its private landowner clients. For cities and municipalities, the company brings land and resource conservation “know-how” to enable them to complete projects they might otherwise leave to conservation non-profits. This information sharing and capacity building enables municipalities to further their public recreation and infrastructure goals, as was the case with this particular project. Unique Places also has a land management division that manages over 40,000 acres of high conservation value lands in North Carolina.

As part of the conservation component of the project, the City of Mebane, with the direction and assistance of Unique Places applied for and received a dual grant award from the NC Agriculture Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund and the United States Department of Agriculture through the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to purchase a conservation easement on 25 acres of prime farmland. These transactions closed in late 2013. Another conservation transaction in 2013 entailed a 45-acre conservation easement donation granted to the City of Mebane by a subset of the heirs that could best utilize the recently expired North Carolina Conservation Tax Credit.

Finally, Unique Places is slated to purchase 54 acres of the farm as a potential linchpin parcel for developing a greenway for the City of Mebane. David Cheek, City Manager of Mebane commented, “The Swathmoor/Cates Family Farm is the most beautiful countryside we have in Mebane. In light of our citizens’ interest in trails and green space, conserving the historic Cates farm will couple nicely with our 120-acre Lake Michael Park, located just upstream on Mill Creek, which runs through the farm. I can envision a fabulous walking water trail from the lake all the way to the historic Cooks Mill.”

Marsha Altmeyer, one of the landowners of Cates Family Farm shared, “Our family benefits by placing a conservation easement on our land—we now know that our land and its legacy will be protected for generations to come. It is important for us to put plans in place that protect our farm and allow us to work towards solutions that are environmentally sound, yet still allow us to operate profitably.”

About Unique Places:
Unique Places is a land conservation, restoration and management firm focused on fulfilling the vision of their clients and revealing the true potential in every property.    From land acquisition to restoration, Unique Places uses strategic planning and asset mapping, combined with conservation design and land management, to holistically develop the full potential of each property. In addition to helping its clients generate revenue from their conservation assets, Unique Places LLC also manages over 40,000 acres of land across North Carolina, and offers a full suite of land management services like prescribed burns, timber management, and biological inventories.

About the Swathmoor/Cates Family Farm:
The Cates Family Farm,, is located just northwest of the town of Mebane in Alamance County, NC. The farm, also known as Swathmoor Farm, once consisted of thousands of acres of land and still includes historic structures dating back to 1801 and relating to the former Cates Farm Pickle manufacturing operation. In the early to mid 20th century this property housed not only the Pickle Company, but also a successful dairy and cattle operation.

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Colleen Kramer

Jeff Fisher
since: 02/2011
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