The primary mission of Otsego Land Trust (OLT) is to protect our region’s productive lands, clean water and rural landscapes. OLT believes in a philosophy of reciprocity and responsibility: in order to have the healthy lands and clean water that enable us to live productive and healthy lives, we need to take care of the earth that takes care of us.
To contribute to the conservation of land in water in our unique region, Otsego Land Trust employs a growing number of innovative and flexible land protection tools. Conservation easements, purchase of development rights (PDRs), acceptance of outright donations and bargain sales are all ways to protect the landscapes we cherish and the lands and waters that sustain us.
The most common way to protect land, water, and open space is to create a conservation easement. A conservation easement is a legal document that protects a property and its unique conservation attributes by permanently limiting the potential uses of the protected land. It is a form of deed restriction that will remain with the property in perpetuity. Once a conservation easement is created, it is the responsibility of the landowner in partnership with OLT to sustain the land’s conservation values. OLT is also responsible for monitoring the property annually to ensure the agreed upon easement provisions are met.
Conservation easements allow landowners to continue to own, use, sell or bequeath their land. The terms of the conservation easement apply to the original donor and all future land owners.
Conservation easements protect the land's natural values in perpetuity. Conservation easements vary widely in the types of limitations they include. OLT works with individual landowners to make sure their easements meet their individual needs and vision for their properties. Whether it be the conservation of open land, working fields, productive forests or special vistas, a conservation easement can accomplish an owners particular wants and needs.
Once an easement is in place, the appraised value of land is often reduced. This reduction means that land can be transferred to family members with reduced gift or estate tax impacts.
In addition, the original donor of an easement may claim a charitable deduction on his or her federal and state income tax returns in an amount equal to the value of the easement. Such deductions can be used in the year of the donation or can be carried over for the next 5 years (as of 2014). Additionally, a current owner (not just the original donor) of a property with an easement may receive a rebate of real estate taxes paid on the protected land. This rebate takes the form of a New York State income tax credit for the property owner up to an annual maximum of $5,000.
If a large farm is subdivided and developed, its productive agricultural life effectively ends. However, without selling or mortgaging their land, owners of working farms can receive financial compensation by selling just the rights to subdivide and/or develop their property and receive financial compensation. In exchange, the owners agree to limit their use of their land to agriculture. This limitation is reflected in a conservation easement.
Additionally, removing the development rights from farmland generally reduces its value. This makes land more affordable for future farmers or others who want to buy it for agricultural purposes.
For landowners who no longer want to own a particular parcel but want to see it protected in perpetuity, an outright donation to Otsego Land Trust may be an excellent option. Donating land for the express purpose of conservation establishes a permanent legacy for future generations.
Upon donation, Otsego Land Trust takes one of the following actions:
If the land has value as a site for public access allowing outdoor, recreational or educational activities, OLT may retain ownership of the property as a permanent public access site or may transfer ownership to another suitable owner such as a government agency or other non-profit organization.
If land has value as a public access site and OLT holds it, a sustaining financial endowment will also be necessary. These endowments are created by landowner donations and/or grants.
If the land is not suitable for public access, OLT may sell the land subject to a conservation easement or other restriction on development and then use the proceeds to protect additional lands.
Outright donation of property is considered a tax deductible gift equal to the appraised value of the land.
On occasion, OLT may suggest the possibility of a bargain sale for properties with exceptional natural attributes or special historic or cultural value. A bargain sale means that the land trust will purchase the parcel for a price that is less than current fair market value. The ability of the land trust to engage in a bargain sale is completely dependent on the availability of grant monies dedicated to this purpose. In most cases, bargain sale properties are properties that are suitable for public access.
Bargain sales may also result in tax benefits to sellers, entitling them to report a charitable deduction equal to the difference between the full market value of the property and their proceeds from a bargain sale.
We encourage you to call Otsego Land Trust with any questions or to help you begin the process of protecting your land.