A conservation easement is the voluntary surrender of development rights to an environmental charitable organization, such as Scenic Hudson, the Trust for Public Land or the Woodstock Land Conservancy. John Winter, the executive director of the Woodstock Land Conservancy, explained the concept to an audience of about 60 people Thursday, Nov. 17 at a meeting of the Saugerties Conservation Advisory Committee at the Saugerties Public Library.
The property-owner still owns the land, but can’t develop or subdivide it. If the property is sold, the easement comes with it.
“The landowner is giving up, permanently, the right to develop the property; that’s the key thing about conservation easements,” said Winter. “The idea is that an individual is choosing to make property available for reasons other than land development.”
Much of the discussion involved tax breaks. There are federal and state tax deductions (maximum $5,000), and a property owner might get the assessment reduced locally for property taxes.
The decision to enter into a land trust is a heavy responsibility because it affects heirs or future owners of the land, Winter acknowledged.
“Land trusts don’t take everything, Winter said. “A lot of times people come to us for the tax deduction, and that’s not the purpose. We have criteria of acceptance – does it meet the requirements. For instance, is it adjacent to other protected land. We’re looking to see how the property has value to the large community.”
Robert Morales asked if the local assessor reduces the taxes, will the other residents be able to use that property, for fishing, hiking, or could it stay posted? Winter responded that typically, the land would not be opened for recreation. “So it looks like a win situation for certain individuals under certain circumstances,” Morales said.
Does the Woodstock Conservancy pay taxes on the land it owns? Morales asked. Winter acknowledged that it doesn’t. It does, however, allow public access on two of its properties; “we want the neighbors to give it their blessing before we open it,” he said. “If they’re off the tax rolls, it hurts the other taxpayers,” Morales responded, “but they don’t have any benefit from that property.” Winter responded that “all the attributes – water quality, wildlife protection, scenic vistas – those are still there, and those have value.”