There are three distinct methods of conveying a conservation easement: donation, purchase through appraisal, and purchase through retirement of residential rights development. Depending on your individual income, desires for your property, and the property’s natural, historic, residential, and agricultural value, some options may be better than others.
A Donation If you pay income taxes, consider an easement donation, which provides sizable tax benefits at the local, state, and federal levels. Since the founding of the Clarke County Conservation Easement Authority in 2002, more than 40 property owners who didn’t want to see the land they love lost or destroyed by development have put their land in permanent conservation easement via donation.
A Purchase – Two Options If you have limited income and own a working farm of a minimum of 30 acres that possesses “prime soils” (as defined by the Natural Resource Conservation Service Criteria), you may qualify 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, the number of dwelling unit rights (DURs), and the resource conservation assets, such as streams or rivers, wildlife, and woodland. Recently, 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 DURs on 204 acres.
For more information on this option, see our Steps to Easement Purchase and Appraisal.
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 the first option above, 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. Thus far, eight easements have been recorded using this option. Property sizes ranged from 10 to 133 acres, 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.
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 your property will score based on its natural merits, see our Property Resources Score Sheet. For more information on how landowner income affects easement purchasing prices, review our Determination of Payment (Owner Income) rubric.