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LAND TRUSTS AND CONSERVATION EASEMENTS

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					            LAND TRUSTS AND CONSERVATION EASEMENTS
                             PART I
    This is Part I of a two-part series discussing the concept of land preservation
     through conservation easements. Questions about conservation easements
        can be submitted in writing to the Eastern Soil Conservation District or
         contact Lavonne Paden at (304) 754-6955 or Lavonne33@aol.com.

Make Plans for Your Land Now                     their land. By taking positive action
                                                 today, your precious land can be
         Much of the land in the Eastern         safeguarded according to your wishes.
Panhandle has been kept open and free            The top land protection method that has
from development for many years---               emerged in the United States during the
perhaps generations. That land has               last decade is known as a conservation
provided a source of                                               easement. A conser-
tranquility and beautiful                                          vation easement can
scenery, and maybe even                                            make a critical diff-
a source of livelihood, for                                        erence in a family’s
its residents. The reality                                         ability to pass land
is, however, that as                                               from one generation
development      pressures                                         to the next.
continue to mount in the
Eastern Panhandle, it will
become more and more                                                 What is a
difficult to keep large                                              Conservation
tracts of land and farms                                             Easement?
intact. Even if you are
committed to protecting                                                    A     conservation
your land from comm-                                                  easement is a legal
ercial development or res-                                            agreement a property
idential subdivision, your                                            owner      makes      to
heirs may be forced to sell                                           restrict the type and
or subdivide your land.                                               amount of develop-
Why?       Federal estate                                             ment that may take
taxes.                                                                place on the property.
                                                 To understand the easement concept,
         Estate taxes are assessed on            think of owning land as holding a bundle
the fair market value of the land at its         of rights. These rights can include the
‘highest and best use.’ In the eyes of           right to build additional buildings, harvest
the Internal Revenue Service, this               timber, grow crops, mine for minerals,
means the value of the land at its               subdivide the land, or restrict access,
development potential. For large tracts          among others. A landowner may sell or
of land and farms the value of this              give away the whole bundle of rights or
development        potential   can      be       just one or two of those rights. To give
substantial. Your heirs may be forced to         away certain rights while retaining
sell the land in order to pay the estate         others, a property owner grants an
taxes on the property—as much as 55%             ―easement‖ to an appropriate third party,
of the land’s current development value.         such as a land trust, a public agency, or
As unfair as it may seem, your heirs may         a historic preservation society.
be forced to sell the land even if they do
not want to.                                             Most of us are familiar with
                                                 easements granted for road access by
        There are options, however, and          others or to allow public utilities to cross
people all over the United States are            our property. Typically these easements
beginning to plan for the preservation of        are already included on our deed.
Conservation easements, on the other         the number and location of structures
hand, are voluntary restrictions enacted     (usually residences) and the types of
by the original landowner and tailored to    activities that can take place.
that landowner’s specific needs.
                                                     The easement may be applied to
         Conservation easements are          just a portion of the property or to the
typically development rights they are        entire property.     The easement may
permanently ―given up‖ by the landowner      allow some additional building even if the
on designated portions of the property in    property is restricted by an easement, so
order to protect the land.                   that children or grandchildren could
                                             reside on the property.
Why Grant a Conservation Easement?
                                                     Consider what makes sense to
        Landowners have discovered           you for your property -- then design the
that the use of conservation easements       easement.
is a powerful and attractive way to
protect their land from inappropriate        Who Can Grant an Easement and to
development while retaining private          Whom?
ownership. The land continues to be
owned by the original landowner. That                 Any owner of property with
landowner may live on the land, sell it or   conservation or historic value may grant
leave it to heirs. The easement is           an easement. Each of the owners of the
recorded with the deed so that all future    property must consent. If the property is
owners will be bound by the restrictions.    mortgaged, the lender must also consent
                                             to subordinate its interests to the
        If the landowner has restricted      interests of the easement holder.
the development potential of the property
by a perpetual conservation easement,                 Easements are typically granted
the land must be valued in the estate at     to local or regional non-profit land trusts
the restricted value. Without the ability    whose sole purpose is to safeguard
to develop the property either by            property conservation values. Conser-
subdividing the land for residential         vation easements are written up in a
development or turning it into a             detailed agreement, and the land trust
commercial development, the land is          takes on the permanent responsibility
simply valued as the landowner wishes it     and the legal right to enforce the terms
to remain – as a farm or open land.          of the agreement.

         By granting a conservation          In Summary
easement in perpetuity, the owner can
be assured that the value of the land will    A conservation easement is designed
be protected indefinitely, no matter who     by you and represents your positive
the future owners are.                       decision to protect your property.

How Restrictive is an Easement?               The easement reduces the fair market
                                             value of the property by restricting future
        The beauty of a conservation         development. By restricting the potential
easement is that it is a flexible tool       for future development, the estate value
designed to protect the conservation         and any resultant estate taxes are also
values of the specific property, while at    reduced.
the same time meeting the personal
desires and financial goals of the            The easement is perpetual – any future
landowners.     Since each piece of          owners of your property will be bound by
property is unique, the conservation         the easement.
easements tailored by the landowner
would also be unique. Generally, the         Next month: A conservation easement
most important limitations are made on       example and working with a land trust.

				
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