You might be interested to know that the Southbury Land Trust preserves land in two basic ways: We own the land, or we hold a conservation easement on it.
For example, we own Phillips Farm, whereas we hold a conservation easement on the Southbury Training School land known as Southbury Farms, which is owned by the State of Connecticut.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and our land trust that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. For example our easement on the Training School property assures that it will always and only be used for agriculture. We have conservation easements on several private residential properties in Southbury which prohibit the building of any more houses.
Landowners can retain many of their rights in a conservation easement, including the right to own and use the land (as long as the uses don’t violate the terms of the easement). They can sell it and pass it on to their heirs.
Conservation easements provide a way for people to protect the land they own and love from unwanted development by giving up all or some of their rights.
If the owner wants to be able to build a home on the land or to reserve some building lots on the property, this may be acceptable -- as long as the land trust determines the easement still protects important conservation values (such as productive farmland or wildlife habitat).
Every easement is the unique result of negotiations between the landowner and the easement holder, but there are a few general rules. All conservation easements must provide public benefits, such as water quality, farm and ranch land preservation, scenic views, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, education, and historic preservation.
Farming and ranching are usually permitted. Commercial uses and development are almost always limited. While some easements require public access, many do not. Most of the easements we hold on private land do not allow public access.
Financially speaking, when an easement is donated, the appraised value of the rights relinquished by the landowner can normally be considered a charitable contribution for income tax purposes. If a land trust buys an easement for less than fair market value (a “bargain sale”) the difference between fair market value and the purchase price may also be considered a charitable contribution.