Conservation easements are an important land conservation tool allowing landowners to permanently protect land from industrial, commercial, or residential development that would destroy the property’s natural resources and their benefits. Landowners exercise the right to be good stewards knowing that their legacy will forever protect the land they love.
What is a conservation easement? A conservation easement is a recorded legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently protects specific conservation values by limiting future development of the land. A conservation easement is voluntary and must comply with the local comprehensive plan. A property with a conservation easement is said to be an "eased property" or "under easement". The landowner is the “donor” of the easement and the land trust, government agency, or other qualified entity is the “holder” of the easement.
The Code of Virginia legally defines a conservation easement under
Does the landowner still own his or her land? An easement is a right or use of someone else’s land by a third party. The landowner thus keeps ownership title and controls the property and can freely sell it or pass it on to heirs. The landowner also retains certain rights to use the property such as continue farming or harvesting timber. The easement conveys with the property and protects it “in perpetuity.”
Does the public have access to properties under easement? An easement does not require landowners to provide public access to their privately owned land. Conservation easements on land owned by a city or county usually provide for public access. An easement has other significant public benefits such as improving water quality, protecting cultural and historic sites, sustaining working farms and forests for future production, and preserving open-space lands that enhance our quality of life.
What do conservation easements allow or prohibit? Each easement is unique. Together the landowner and the land trust (or agency) decide the easement’s terms. Typically, easements allow for continued farming, forestry, hunting, and fishing. The primary provision of a conservation easement is a limit on subdivision of the property and impervious surface (i.e., buildings and pavement), while limited building rights are retained.
How much land does an easement require? Easements come in all sizes from as little as a half-acre to hundreds of acres or more. A land trust or agency’s focus and service area will guide its policies which, along with a property’s conservation values and the local comprehensive plan, will determine if it’s right for an easement.
What is the role of the easement holder? After the Deed of Easement is recorded, the land trust or agency has stewardship responsibility: an annual site visit to ensure compliance with the easement and, if necessary, legal defense of an easement if a future owner violates its terms.
Are there tax benefits to donating an easement? There can be federal and state income tax and estate planning benefits. In order to be tax-deductible, the easement: a) must be given in perpetuity; b) must be given to a qualified governmental or non-profit organization; c) must have an appraisal; and
d) must be donated exclusively for the purpose of conserving significant natural, scenic, historic, scientific, recreational, or open space value.
If you are interested in exploring the possibility of donating a conservation easement on your land, the first step is to complete our online form at the bottom of this page. Submitting this application does not obligate you to pursue an easement with CRLC or any other agency, but simply allows our staff to evaluate whether or not your property is a good match for an easement. If you would rather have an initial conversation with our staff, you may call or e-mail Land Conservation Manager Jane Myers at (804)745-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can I expect next? Once we’ve determined your property is a good candidate for an easement, we will discuss all options for the most appropriate easement holder as well as possible easement terms to meet your needs while protecting your land. If CRLC is the best fit, we will arrange a site visit to your property. From there, the process varies and may take as little as several months to more than a year to complete. A landowner is free to change his or her mind and suspend the process at any time prior to recording the Deed of Easement.
Will I need an attorney? Yes, you will need an attorney to prepare a title report and be your representative in drafting the Deed of Easement. Your attorney will advise you about other experts with whom you may wish or need to consult such as a qualified conservation easement appraiser, accountant, or tax credit broker. Only an attorney and/or an accountant can advise you on potential federal tax deductions and state tax credits.
What are the possible tax benefits? The Capital Region Land Conservancy is providing the following summary of the tax benefits of conservation easements for informational purposes only.
1. Federal Income Tax Deduction The donation of an easement is treated as a charitable gift and the value of the easement (the value of the property pre-easement minus the value of the property post-easement) may be deducted from the donor's income for purposes of calculating income taxes.
2. Virginia State Income Tax Credit The donor of a qualified easement donation is eligible for a Virginia income tax credit that is transferable.
3. Estate Tax Benefits The donation of an easement may result in a reduction in estate taxes.
Does CRLC charge a fee? As of 2020, CRLC charges an application fee to consider a possible conservation easement. The fee is $500 and is due prior to a site visit by CRLC staff. A landowner is responsible for covering all expenses for appraisal, legal, title, and recordation, as well as a Baseline Documentation Report (BDR) and a suggested donation to cover perpetual stewardship costs. In some instances, CRLC may require a survey, title insurance, Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, or other due diligence for which the landowner may incur the cost.
Our online application form (below) outlines the requirements of our process and our appraisal policy. You can print and complete this form and mail it to our land conservation manager, Jane Myers, at Capital Region Land Conservancy, P.O. Box 17306, Richmond, VA 23226 or scan and email it to email@example.com.
The Richmond Times Dispatch, August 7, 2019
Virginia Mercury, June 5, 2019
Saving Land, Spring 2019
The Richmond Times Dispatch, January 29, 2019