Conservation Easement

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal agreement by which a landowner extinguishes some or all rights to develop land and thus to protect the land from future development.

How does that work?

Owning land gives a person many rights: the right to occupy and use the land; the right to keep others off the land; the right, subject to zoning, to develop the land.  When a landowner signs a conservation easement, specific rights to develop the land, to mine the land, or to use the land in ways that may damage the natural resources are given to a land trust. The owner retains ownership of the property.

Exactly what rights are given away?

A conservation easement can be developed in a flexible manner to suite the needs of the landowner and to reflect the particular conservation assets of the land.  The conservation easement is a contract that is worked out between the parties.  The important values may be scenic, historic, archeological, habitat, recreational, agricultural, or forest.  Some easements do not provide for any further development, but many allow future construction and spell out the number and kind of buildings and where they will be placed. The land remains private, unless specified otherwise in the easement.  Each easement is unique, since no two pieces of land are identical and each landowner has different plans for their property.

What if I give an easement and later I need to make a change?

A conservation easement does not completely freeze what will happen on the land. The goal of the easement is to preserve a living landscape, one that allows for good conservation while making sure the land can continue to be used and enjoyed. An easement should try to anticipate what the landowner’s needs will be.

Most easements are granted in perpetuity.  For this reason, the board of the land trust and the landowner strive to keep the spirit of the easement, yet are prepared to adjust to changing circumstances.  Winnakee has already made adjustments with several landowners as their reasonable needs arose.

Why give an easement?

There are several benefits to landowners who protect their land with conservation easements. Establishing a conservation easement is a way to ensure that the land your treasure will be protected forever. This is a promise Winnakee Land Trust makes in accepting your conservation easement. An easement cannot be changed by local zoning laws. It will legally protect your property forever.

Further, there are substantial tax benefits at both the state and federal level that offer incentives to landowners establishing conservation easements. Winnakee Land Trust is happy to provide more information on these.

What about my neighbors?

A landowner may also encourage his or her neighbors to establish a similar easement or even a cooperative easement. This gives all of the landowners in an area a strong way to preserve their neighborhood, which is the environment we each generally know the best and love the most. A neighborhood that has significant open space protected is typically more desireable in the residential real estate market.

How much does it cost?

It does take money to prepare the materials needed for an easement, to document the land at the time of easement, and to negotiate and draft the papers. And it takes more money to endow the perpetual management of the easement.  A landowner should expect to pay a minimum of $2000 in advance to the land trust for the preparation of each easement and also make a donation to the Stewardship Endowment that will cover the costs of annual monitoring. This donation should be sufficient to generate enough annual income in interest to offset the costs of monitoring the easement.

How do I proceed?

The first step is to meet with a Winnakee staff member to talk about your plans for your land. Each property is unique, so it’s important to find out whether your land is a good candidate for conservation and whether your plans fit with a land trust’s goals. Call Winnakee Land Trust to find out more: 845-876-4213 or director@winnakeeland.org.