conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner
to limit the type or amount of development on their property while
retaining private ownership of the land. The easement is signed by
the landowner, who is the easement donor, and the Westwood Land Trust,
which is the party receiving the easement. All conservation easements
must be approved by the Board of Selectmen and the Department of Environmental
Protection. The Westwood Land Trust accepts the easement with understanding
that it must enforce the terms of the easement in perpetuity. After
the easement is signed, it is recorded with the County Register of
Deeds and applies to all future owners of the land.
The Westwood Land Trust received a conservation
restriction on the Hunnewell property in 2003
way to visualize a conservation easement is to think of owning land
holding a bundle of sticks. Each one of these sticks represents the
landowner's right to do something with their property. The right to
build a house, to subdivide the property for development, to lease the
property, pass it on to heirs, allow hunting are all rights that the
landowner has. A landowner may give up certain development rights, or
sticks from the bundle, associated with their property through a document
called a conservation easement.
do people grant conservation easements?
People grant conservation easements because they want to protect their
property from unwanted development but they also wish to retain ownership
of 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
financial advantage to the donor and the donor's heirs, since taxes
will be lowered in the future.
kind of financial advantages result from donating an easement?
Many landowners receive a federal income tax deduction for the gift
of a Conservation Easement. The Internal Revenue Service allows a deduction
if the easement is perpetual and donated "exclusively for conservation
purposes." The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the
value of the conservation easement. In addition, the donor may have
estate and property tax relief.
activities are allowed on land protected by an easement?
The activities allowed by a Conservation easement depend on the landowner's
wishes and the characteristics of the property. In some instances, no
further development is allowed on the land. In other circumstances some
additional development is allowed, but the amount and type of development
is less than would otherwise be allowed. Conservation easements may
be designed to cover all or only a portion of a property. Every easement
is unique, tailored to a particular landowner's goals and their land.
the landowner still sell or give the property away?
The landowner continues to own the property after executing an easement.
Therefore, the owner can sell, give or lease the property, as before.
However, all future owners assume ownership of the property subject
to the conditions of the easement.
the public have a right of access to easement-protected property?
The public does not have access to property protected by an easement
unless the original landowner who grants the easement specifically allows
it. Most easement donors do not want, and therefore do not allow, public
access to their property.
long does an easement last and who upholds it in the future?
To be eligible for a federal income tax deduction the easement must
be "perpetual," that is, it must last forever. The Westwood
Land Trust monitors the property, generally once a year, to assure that
the easement is not being violated. If the easement has been breached
the Westwood Land Trust will take whatever steps are necessary to uphold
the terms of the easement, including taking legal action. Because of
this obligation the Westwood Land Trust asks all easement donors to
make a financial contribution to the Land Trust. This funds ensure long-term
monitoring and enforcement of every easement the Westwood Land Trust
owns the conservation easement?
To qualify for a tax deduction the easement must be donated to the government
or a qualifying conservation or historic preservation organization.
The Westwood Land Trust qualifies as a federally recognized
public charity under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(C)(3). In addition,
the Westwood Land Trust is qualified to receive conservation easements
under Massachusetts law.
owns and manages easement protected land?
The landowner retains full rights to control and manage their property
within the limits of the easement. The landowner continues to bear all
costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property.
The Westwood Land Trust monitors the property to ensure compliance with
the easement's terms, but it has no other management responsibilities
and exercises no direct control over other activities on the land.
the easement have to cover all of the landowner's property?
No, some easements only cover a portion of the landowner's property.
Again, it depends on the landowner's wishes. For example, if someone
owns 80 acres, of which 35 acres are wetlands, the landowner may decide
to restrict development only on these 35 acres. The remaining 45 acres
would not be covered or affected by the easement.
kind of land can be protected by conservation easements?
IRS regulations require that the property have "significant"
conservation values. This includes forests, wetlands, endangered species
habitat, beaches, scenic areas and more. The Westwood Land Trust also
has its own criteria for accepting easements. At the invitation of the
landowner, the Westwood Land Trust will evaluate the property to determine
whether it meets the Land Trust criteria.
If you would like more information about your options as a landowner,
or if you would like to arrange for the Westwood Land Trust to do a
site visit and discuss land protection options, please contact the Westwood
Land Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.