Many land owners who care about protecting their land are not in a position to donate land and may not want to sell it. A good alternative is a conservation easement. It allows you to protect your land, and benefit from potential tax breaks, while keeping ownership and the rights to continue traditional uses of the property.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between you, the landowner, and Alachua County that allows us to work as partners to permanently protect the land. You place voluntary restrictions on land uses to protect its conservation values. These restrictions become part of the property deed, so they apply to whoever owns the land in the future, thereby protecting your original conservation intent. Alachua County Forever ensures that all future owners look after the land in the way that you set out in your agreement by periodically visiting the property.
A conservation easement is flexible and can be tailored to meet your financial and personal needs and wishes, and the needs of the natural areas. An easement on property with rare wildlife habitat, for example, might not allow any development, while one on a farm might allow continued farming and the construction of additional farm buildings.
An easement allows you and your family to continue to use and enjoy the land the same way you always have, and to sell the land or pass it on to heirs. An easement can apply to an entire property, or a portion of it, such as the land along the shore of a lake or river.
There are generally three potential tax benefits that can accrue to landowners when they place a conservation easement on their property; reductions in property taxes, income and capital gains taxes, and reductions in estate taxes. A conservation easement may lower your property taxes because of the lower market value of the property once it is restricted. Alachua County has recognized this reduction on other conserved property and has reduced the taxable value of the property accordingly.
A conservation easement may help you to pass land on the next generation. By limiting the development potential of the land, the easement may lower its market value. This in turn may lower capital gains, inheritance or estate taxes that heirs need to pay on an inheritance or gift. Whether donated during your lifetime or by will, it can make a critical difference in your heirs' ability to keep the land intact. Finally, donating an easement on environmentally significant land may also qualify as a tax-deductible charitable donation for income tax purposes.
Conservation easements can also be used in combination with the sale or donation of land (see the following sections). This gives you control over use of the land, preserves the special qualities of that property, even after you no longer own it, and allows you to combine the advantages of different options to extend the benefits to you and your family.
For much more on conservation easements, please click here.