Conservation Easement Authority

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What is the Conservation Easement program?titleslide

The Conservation Easement Program is designed to provide an option for landowners to protect family farms in Clarke County and their unique natural and cultural resources. It represents an opportunity for landowners to voluntarily donate or sell a conservation easement to a public authority to be held in trust for perpetuity. In turn, the landowner will receive monetary compensation either though direct payment from the Authority or by selling the tax credits generated by the easement donation. The amount of compensation is based on the difference between the value of the property prior to the easement and the value of the property after the easement. The difference in value reflects the land’s value as protected open space (such as farmland, forest land or rural use) versus the "highest and best" use (often residential development).

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement negotiated between a landowner and a public agency or charitable conservation organization in which the landowner agrees to place specific restrictions on the use and development of their property. Since it is a voluntary agreement, the landowners retain ownership of the land and can tailor the easement to meet their specific goals and vision for the property. To be eligible for various income and estate tax benefits, however, the easement must meet a minimum standard of protection to be a "qualified conservation contribution". By promoting a land ethic and responsible stewardship of the property, an easement provides a lasting benefit to the public through the protection of open space, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and air and water quality.

Who can apply?

Any landowner whose land meets a minimum score under the property evaluation criteria is eligible.

Who will hold the easement?

The County Board of Supervisors, the County Conservation Easement Authority and one or more other public or nonprofit entities such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, or the Piedmont Environmental Council.

How are properties chosen?

In general properties are scored using the property resource scoring system (link to Property Resources Score.pdf). Depending on whether the easement is a donation or purchase, different criteria apply. Please refer to these documents for a detailed summary of the donation (final program outline donation.pdf) or purchase (final program outline purchase.pdf) process.

Does an easement give the public access?

No. Since landowners retain title to their property, they retain the quiet and private use and enjoyment of it.

How do citizens benefit from this program?

There is an increasing recognition that farm and forest land, clean water and air, diverse wildlife habitats, scenic vistas and rural character have public as well as private value. The Easement Purchase Program provides a means for attaining a balance between landowner’s rights and responsibilities and the public value of rural land. The Easement Purchase Program supports the goals of the Comprehensive Plan by adding an additional tool to protect the County’s natural, scenic, cultural and historical resources, promoting a stable, sustainable and vital agricultural and forestry base, and protecting the County’s surface and groundwater supplies.

Who administers the Easement Purchase program?

The program is housed within the Clarke County Planning Department and managed by the Natural Resource Planner who works under the direction of the seven-member Conservation Easement Authority to promote and oversee the program.

When can I make application to the Easement Purchase program?

Applications maybe submitted at anytime.