Land conservation - the practice of holding land open and free of development – has become a significant real estate activity in the United States. Since 1988 voters across the country have approved spending around $54 billion on land conservation in state and local ballot measures, according to the Trust for Public Land. Additional private money is spent on conservation through non-profit land trusts and conservation by individuals and corporations. Land conservation has become an important component of smart growth efforts, as well as for environmental protection and recreational opportunities.
Understanding the purpose, various techniques available and other issues associated with land conservation is essential for real estate and appraisal professionals. Land owners may receive benefits for conserving their land, but must also be aware of costs and potential issues. Sale of land for conservation may have additional benefits. Land conservation programs can have significant impacts on real estate markets, valuation, and can affect the use of adjacent land as well as the land being conserved. Implications for long term maintenance cost, valuation and taxes may be complex and substantial.
Many land conservation actions attempt to preserve the land in a natural condition to achieve environmental benefits. Other approaches may intend to preserve agricultural use rather than a natural environment. In any case, the overriding objective is usually to work cooperatively with property owners to limit urban development in order to achieve other public goals.
Land conservation actions can be as simple as an individual landowner deciding not to develop land, but instead preserve the natural environment. Land conservation can occur with relatively simple easements on private property that prevent future development. Easements can be sold, exchanged for other land, provide tax reductions, or granted for a variety of other considerations. Conservation can also occur through fee simple purchase of land. Purchase might be based on the full market value or for another negotiated value allowing some continued use or tenancy by the seller.
Government agencies are typically involved in land conservation efforts. Other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as non-profit land trusts and other conservation organizations may be partly or solely involved. In more complex circumstances, all the governmental and NGO entities and available tools may be used in some combination to conserve larger properties or areas.
In Part 2 of this post we will discuss the basic tools used to maximize land conservation efforts around the country.
Real Estate Professionals and Land Planners may want to learn more about dealing with Land Conservation issues through the VanEd Continuing Education and professional development course Land Conservation.