|Conservation Tools: Transferable Development Rights - Conservation Easements - Conservation Subdivisions|
Ownership of land encompasses a "bundle" of rights- to subdivide, to sell, to farm, to cut timber, and to build, for example. A landowner may voluntarily agree to give up one or more of these rights in order to protect a particular natural or historical resource. For example, he might agree to forego land disturbance and chemical application within a certain distance of the Oconee River or its tributaries or to forego quarrying activities on a parcel in order to protect the habitat of the snorkelwort, a rare aquatic herb found on granitic outcrops in the watershed
In addition, he may reserve the authority to exercise a number of basic rights- to sell, lease, assign and use the property; to restrict public access; to maintain the land for agricultural use; or to construct additional dwellings, for example. Under no condition may these reserved rights impair the resource or conservation value the easement seeks to protect.
The agreement restricting and reserving certain uses is binding on future
purchasers of the property and is recorded as a Deed of Conservation Easement.
It is the responsibility of the easement holder (which can be a government
body or a land trust, a non-profit organization whose mission includes
the protection of land) to routinely monitor the property, usually once
a year, to ensure that the agreement is not violated and to pursue legal
recourse to compel compliance if necessary.
BENEFITS TO THE LANDOWNER
The Internal Revenue Code defines conservation purposes as the preservation of land areas for
LAND TRUSTS ACTIVE IN THE OCONEE WATERSHED
Local governments may support the work of land trusts in the watershed
by clearly documenting their preservation policies. Before allowing
a federal income tax deduction for a specific open space easement, the
IRS must determine that the preservation of that open space is pursuant
to a clearly delineated conservation policy of the federal, state or local
government. To that end, language in a local government's comprehensive
plan and land use regulations describing areas of the jurisdiction worthy
of protection and mechanisms for that protection is helpful. A general
goal of protecting open space throughout the county would probably not
be adequate but the designation of certain types of land for preferential
tax assessment purposes or for open space, farmland, scenic or river overlay
zones, for example, are more likely to satisfy the IRS.
Mark E. Elliott, "Open Space Preservation: An Analysis of the Internal
Revenue Code Definition of A Conservation Purpose", The Back Forty
published by the Hastings School of Law, San Francisco, California, October