Conservation easements are legal documents that enable the landowner to limit or prevent future uses of the property (often relating to commercial or residential development.) Conservation easements are often used to preserve larger tracts of lands that a family may want to continue to own, or farm, but has no interest in selling the land for development. Once signed, a conservation easement governs future land use regardless of ownership.
In some cases, a family may choose to retain certain rights –perhaps the right to build an additional building or to continue farming the property—or the property may be managed solely for conservation purposes. Each easement is uniquely drafted to address issues related to public use, habitat protection, or continued use by the owner.
Typically, easements are granted in perpetuity and are legally binding restrictions for the current and successive owners. Conveying this type of protection on your land should be considered as an option when estate taxes or financial pressures threaten to force the sale of family lands. Easements are an effective means of maintaining ownership of your land while offering a level of protection that provides a public benefit.
Tax benefits associated with easement restrictions are commensurate with the level of public benefit associated with the restrictions placed on a property. For example, an easement that allows for an additional home and no public access would qualify for a lesser reduction in taxes than an easement allowing for public access and prohibiting extractive uses. Easements can be either donated, or sold to the land trust to ensure the property stays substantially unchanged. Easements do not convey ownership to the land trust, only the responsibility to ensure the restrictions agreed upon are upheld.
The role of a land trust is defined as the Holder of the easement. After agreeing upon the terms of an easement, the land trust will document the current condition of the property and monitor the property (at least annually) as the party responsible for ensuring the restrictions outlined in the easement are upheld.
Donating your land to the land trust is a way to ensure your property receives the highest level of protection. As a parcel owned by the land trust, the property will be professionally managed to preserve the natural features. Donating your land outright, during your lifetime or as part of your estate, will qualify for significant reductions in potential income, and/or estate taxes. (For specific information on the tax implications of donating land see MCHT’s website).
Families who have a strong desire to ensure that their property will be permanently protected without having to negotiate easement terms, or to continue to manage the property themselves may want to consider a gift of land.
Occasionally, land trusts may receive gifts of non-conservation lands given as a simple gift to then be sold by the land trust to fund priority conservation projects. Under no circumstances would CELT sell a property it owns without negotiating a mutual understanding prior to conveyance. ‘Trade Lands’ that have been specifically gifted to a Trust for resale, like any other gift, may have beneficial tax implications for a donor.
The Cape Elizabeth Land Trust does, on occasion, purchase property. If a property meets our land preservation criteria, and donation is not possible, CELT may consider purchasing the property, or a conservation easement (often referred to as purchase of development rights). When purchasing land, CELT will work with a landowner to negotiate a bargain sale purchase. Bargain sale purchases entail a voluntary reduction in the purchase price which may then qualify as a charitable donation to CELT and may be deducted from capital gains. As CELT does not have the financial resources on-hand, purchasing land may also require installment payments, or the acquisition of project-specific donations and/or grants.
Offering CELT an option to purchase, or offering a right of first refusal on the sale of a property may also be options to consider. The option to purchase extends a specific timeframe and a set dollar figure for CELT to raise the necessary funds for purchase. A right of first refusal likewise gives CELT the ability to conserve the property at some point in the future if you are not yet ready to sell your land.
To speak with a land preservation staff member at the Land Trust please call 207-767-6054.