The Western New York Land Conservancy works with both interested property owners and local governments to help protect important land. With property owners, we can use a variety of voluntary mechanisms to help conserve properties in the long run, including property acquisitions, conservation easements, and assisted transactions. With local governments, we can assist with open space planning, farmland protection planning, and other conservation-related technical assistance. If you are a property owner or local government and you are interested in working with us, please Contact Us.
For Property Owners
Property acquisition occurs when the Land Conservancy acquires title to real property by a deed, thereby becoming the new owner of a property. The Land Conservancy can acquire a property through sale or donation by the owner.
When selling a property to the Land Conservancy, the initial landowner receives payment for the property. In order to purchase a property, the Land Conservancy must raise the necessary funds through donations and / or grants. When donating a property, the initial owner may be able to claim a tax deductible charitable donation if the donation meets federal tax code requirements. The initial owner may also do a ‘bargain sale’ by selling the property for less than its appraised value, and may be able to claim a tax deductible charitable donation for the difference in appraised value and sale price.
The most traditional tool for conserving private land, a “conservation easement” (also known as a conservation restriction) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust – like the Land Conservancy – or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land, and they can also sell it or pass it on to heirs.
When you donate a conservation easement to the Land Conservancy, you give up some of the rights associated with the land. For example, you might give up the right to build additional structures, while retaining the right to grow crops. Future owners also will be bound by the easement’s terms. The Land Conservancy is responsible for making sure the easement’s terms are followed. This is managed through “stewardship” by the Land Conservancy.
Conservation easements offer great flexibility. An easement on property containing rare wildlife habitat might prohibit any development, for example, while an easement on a farm might allow continued farming and the addition of agricultural structures. An easement may apply to all or a portion of the property, and need not require public access.
A landowner sometimes sells a conservation easement, but usually easements are donated to a land trust. If the donation benefits the public by permanently protecting important conservation resources, and meets other federal tax code requirements, it can qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation. Easement values vary greatly; in general, the highest easement values result from very restrictive conservation easements on tracts of developable open space under intense development pressure. In some jurisdictions, placing an easement on your property may also result in property tax savings.
Perhaps the most important benefit, a conservation easement can be essential for passing undeveloped land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the property’s market value, which in turn lowers potential estate tax. Whether the easement is donated during life or by will, it can make a critical difference in one’s heirs’ ability to keep the land intact.
The Land Conservancy can help landowners and other conservation organizations or government agencies with assisted transactions. In these instances, the Land Conservancy may help identify priority properties for conservation and work with the landowner to find the most appropriate conservation method. If a property acquisition or conservation easement is desired, the Land Conservancy will then work to find the right partner to own the property or accept the conservation easement. The Land Conservancy will help both parties through the transaction or easement process, and can even help fundraise and write grants for the project.
For Local Governments
The Land Conservancy can help local governments with open space planning, farmland protection planning, and other conservation-related technical assistance such as grant writing and best management practices. Some examples of our work with local governments include:
- We helped the Town of Aurora create and adopt the Aurora Open Space Plan which identifies the most important open spaces in Aurora and describes ways to protect them.
- We have assisted Amherst, Marilla, Elma, and Eden in designing and implementing farmland protection programs.
- We helped the Town of Clarence enact the ‘Greenprint’ program, a $12.5 million dollar open space bond resolution to provide funding for the purchase and preservation of open space and farmland in the Town, and have since helped protect over a thousand acres of land on numerous properties with Greenprint funding.
- We also participate as stakeholders on regional planning efforts, like the One Region Forward planning effort for Erie and Niagara counties, and the New York State Open Space Plan Committee.