In order to be considered for easement acceptance, the Authority established a series of criteria in order to objectively evaluate properties. Specifically the property must be located in the Agricultural-Open Space- Conservation (AOC) or Forestal-Open Space-Conservation (FOC) zoning district, and preference is given to properties in or qualifying for use value taxation. The criteria further extends eligibility depending on the Property Resource Score which assigns points to parcels based on conservation values associated with the property, retiring at least 1 dwelling unit right (DUR), being larger than 40 acres, and being adjacent to an existing conservation easement. The Authority amended these criteria in August 2011 to increase minimal Property Resource Score requirements from 35 to 50 points for consideration of easement purchases on properties not qualifying for land use.
There are three distinct methods for conveying a conservation easement: donation, purchase through appraisal, and purchase through retirement of residential rights development. Depending on your individual income, your desires for your property, and the properties natural, historic, residential, and agricultural value, some options may suit your situation better than others.
If your income is such that you pay taxes, consider an easement donation, which provides sizable tax benefits at the local, state and federal level. Over 40 property owners, who did not want to see the land they love lost or destroyed by development, have put there land in permanent conservation easement via donation through the Authority since its founding in late 2002. For more information, check out our Steps to Easement Donation.
Purchase Option A
If you have limited income and own a working farm of a minimum of 30 acres that possesses “prime soils” (based on Natural Resource Conservation Service Criteria), you may quality for an easement purchase with funds drawn from the Federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program. The purchase offer is based on an appraisal that includes the location and size of the property, number of Dwelling Unit Rights (DURs), and resource conservation assets such as streams or rivers, wildlife and woodland. Last year the county used Farm and Ranchland funds to purchase easements on three properties. The purchases ranged from $93,000 to retire one DUR on 43 acres to $715,000 to retire five DUR’s on 204 acres. For more information, see our Steps to Easement Purchase and Appraisal.
Purchase Option B
If you have building rights (DURs) to retire, the Authority may be willing to purchase them for as much as $40,000 per DUR, with the funding coming jointly from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the county. As in Option A, the price will be partly determined by a combination of income level and the conservation value of your land. In addition, you may qualify for state tax credits as well as federal and state tax deductions through this program. Eight easements have been recorded using this option. Property sizes ranged from 10 to 133 acre, for payments ranging from $25,000 for one DUR to $240,000 for six DURs. For more information on this option, see our Steps to Easement Purchase Through DUR Retirement.
To begin the process with our office, please complete the Preliminary Easement Application and mail to the address listed on the bottom of the form. The information provide applies for any of these options.
For all of these options, the appraisal and evaluation methods depend primarily on two factors: owner income and the resource value of the proposed easement. To get an idea of how properties are scored based on their natural merits, check out our Property Resources Score Sheet, and for more information on how landowner income affects easement purchasing prices, check out our Determination of Payment (Owner Income) rubric.
To see an example of what types of conditions a Conservation Easement might have, take a look at this Sample Deed of Easement.