What Is a Conservation Easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement between two parties, a landowner and a Land Trust (or other qualified entity), regarding future uses of the landowner’s property. It is a restrictive document, delineating what can or can’t be done on or to the property.

Such restrictions could include the number and size of buildings, the total square footage of impermeable surface, how the land could be used (e.g. park, natural area, arboretum, etc.) and could also establish conditions regarding trees.

The terms are binding on all future owners in perpetuity, making this mechanism more durable than zoning restrictions which can be changed, or restrictions on a deed which might disappear at the next sale. The landowners or their heirs retain ownership of the property.

Tax Benefits

The development rights that you are giving up if you place a conservation easement on your property are valuable. The difference in the value before and after giving an easement amounts to a charitable gift and as such may qualify as a deduction from your federal income tax. The federal tax benefits were recently expanded (more). Potentially, you can deduct up to 50% of your adjusted gross income per year for as many as fifteen years or until the full deduction is used. There are also potential state income tax deductions and credits, continuing property tax bebefits and estate tax benefits.

Conveying an Easement

Here are some of the steps involved:

• Think about the kinds of restrictions you would want - these will affect the future use of the property as well as the value of your charitable gift.

• Identify the entity that will consider accepting your gift of easement (e.g., The Garrett Park Conservation Trust)

• Discuss the restrictions with the GPC Trust and work with us to draft an easement document. We have some samples to help you get started. The document should be developed jointly with the Trust so that it will in the end be agreeable to both parties.

• You will need to have a professional land appraisal in order to determine the value of the charitable gift for tax deductions.