PROTECTING LAND: CONSERVATION EASEMENTS
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and WLC. The landowner permanently restricts the type, location, and amount of development that can occur on a property so that conservation values recognized by WLC – such as wildlife habitat, scenic views, or water resources – are protected forever. Landowners retain full title to the land and are free to sell, lease, or mortgage their property. An easement “runs with the land;” in other words, these restrictions are indelibly conveyed to all future owners of the property.
Although easements are legally binding and permanent, they are tailored to the personal wishes and financial goals of the landowner and to the land itself. For example, a landowner might retain the right to build or harvest timber on one or more sections of the property while leaving the rest undisturbed.
Conservation easements can provide financial benefits in four key ways:
1. A conservation easement can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation when given to a non-profit organization like WLC. The value of the donation is the difference between the property’s market value before and after the easement is donated.
2. New York State landowners whose land is restricted by a conservation easement receive an annual refund of 25% of the property taxes paid on that land, up to $5,000 per year. It is available to all owners of conservation easement-restricted land, regardless of when the easement was created, provided that the easement was wholly or partially donated to a public or private conservation agency like WLC.
3. Reduced property taxes. Because market value is usually less if future development is restricted by conservation easements, property taxes associated with such “restricted” land can decline when it is reassessed by the local jurisdiction. An easement can relieve the potential financial burden of inheriting land. Because the market value of easement-restricted land is usually reduced, the estate taxes on the land could decrease as well.
4. Some donors choose to utilize a charitable remainder unitrust. The donor arranges to put a conservation easement on their land and then places it in a trust. The land is sold and the proceeds are invested. Beneficiaries receive annual payments from the trust for a fixed term or for life, after which any remaining funds are turned over to WLC.