Conservation Easement Options
There are two main ways to perform a donation. In the form of a conservation easement or the land “fee simple”
- A “fee simple” conveyance means you give up all rights to the property. This is the same way a house you own is sold whereby you gave up all of your rights (and obligations) to the property. Therefore, you no longer had the right to occupy or even go onto the property. In addition, you also gave up the requirement to pay taxes, to pay for insurance, and to maintain the property.
- With a conservation easement donation, you give up some rights to the property, typically you mainly give up the right to subdivide and intensely develop the land with additional residential structures. You still own and occupy the property and/or farm the property. Also, you still have the obligation to pay taxes on the property. Mostly there are transparent changes, except for the rights you give up.
Property owners will typically grant conservation easements when they want to protect their property from unwanted development. Yet, they also wish to retain ownership of, and control over, their land. By granting a conservation easement a landowner can assure that the property will be protected forever, regardless of who owns the land in the future. An additional benefit of granting a conservation easement is that the donation of an easement may provide significant tax advantage to the donor.
The activities allowed by a conservation easement depend on the landowner’s wishes that are contained within the encumbering easement document. Many times the characteristics of the property will determine the remaining activities available after the easement is enacted. In many instances, no further development is allowed on the land. The landowner sometimes will retain the right to farm and harvest timber from the restricted part of the property. If you own a farm, you can donate your right to subdivide and build houses, while retaining your right to continue farming the land forever.
Based on specific location and usable areas of the property, additional development is allowed (such as an additional residential structure or a reserved building envelope for future use), but the amount and type of development is less than would otherwise be allowed. A building envelope is like a residential building lot with certain maximum dimensional features based on size and/or dimensional parameters.
Conservation easements can be designated to only a portion of a property instead of the whole ownership. So a property owner can exclude their personal residence, agricultural outbuildings and immediately surrounding land. Every easement is unique, the easement document is shaped and molded to the particular landowner’s goals and their property.