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Shenandoah County established a conservation easement program to allow landowners to permanently protect their family farms, forests, and other rural lands through the donation or sale of a conservation easement. The Conservation Easement Authority (CEA) was established to carry out this easement program.
Getting To Know Easements
What is an Easement?
Every property has a specific set of usage rights that are specific to the property. This set of rights can be explained by the picture on the left of a bundle of sticks, which represent a bundle of property rights. Easements are used in many ways from developing roads, sidewalks, and driveways, to power, water, and internet lines. When an easement of any kind is created, a stick may be broken in half, or sold or donated entirely. This means that rights may be lessened or sold or donated away so they may not be used, while ultimately the remaining sticks or rights in the bundle are retained. This means that specific rights of use on property can be sold without actually selling the property or all of its uses.
Ok, so what is a Conservation Easement?
A Conservation Easement is the sale or donation of certain sticks or parts of sticks from the bundle, while the owner retains the remaining sticks or rights of use on a property. The agency that buys or receives the donated sticks or rights is known as the Conservation Easement holder as they hold the rights or sticks. Since each easement and property is unique, Conservation Easements are able to be tailored to meet the owner and holders’ needs.
Got it. So what is the benefit of having a Conservation Easement?
To start, you can reap significant income tax and estate tax benefits by simply donating a Conservation Easement. If the Conservation Easement is sold, then you would receive additional payments based on the reduction in fair market value due to the Conservation Easement on the land. Most landowners will donate their Conservation Easements as the funds needed to purchase Conservation Easements tend to be in short supply.
If I were to donate or sell the Conservation Easement, does that mean I would not own the land anymore?
No you would still own the land no matter if you donated or sold the Conservation Easement. You would be donating or selling the uses that you agree to remove from the property such as mining, building in certain locations, clear cutting forests, and many other uses of the land, or sticks from your bundle of property rights.
I heard that if I put my land in a Conservation Easement that I would have to ask before I did anything.
This is not true. As stated earlier, Conservation Easements are made to be tailored to the landowner and property’s needs. While each holder that you may engage with may require certain uses to be placed in the Conservation Easement, this does not mean that your hands are tied to that holder as there are many agencies, land trusts, and groups that help with holding Conservation Easements throughout the Commonwealth. We advise that you look at multiple options prior to entering into any agreements that you are unsure of making.
How long is the commitment?
Forever. Conservation Easements are permanent and run with the land from owner to owner. With this in mind, you must take into consideration how the Conservation Easement will work for you in perpetuity. This means that you may want to add clauses for build sites for new farm or living structures to meet you and your family’s needs, as well as provisions for new types of agriculture and agritourism.
Ok, I’m interested. How do I start?
To start the process with Shenandoah County, we ask that you fill out a Conservation Determination Sheet, and give our Staff a call to talk the idea over. You can reach our Staff at 540-459-6185.
Once you have submitted a Conservation Determination Sheet, then our Program Administrator will score the potential Conservation Easement to see if you qualify. If you qualify you will be placed on the agenda of the next CEA meeting for the CEA to determine whether or not the proposed Conservation Easement meets their standards and guidelines and that they would accept the Conservation Easement. If approved, then you will either work with County Staff, the County Attorney, any Co-Holders, and any Conservation Professionals you have to draft a deed of easement and final application. Once the deed is completed it will be presented in front of the CEA for recommendation for approval, and then the Board of Supervisors will take up the request and make a final determination.
Learn more about the process here: Steps for Conveying an Easement
Additional information can be found below:
- CEA Brochure
- Steps for Conveying an Easement
- Myths On Conservation Easements
- Financial Benefits To Easements
- Conservation Value Map
- CEA Plan: Vision 25
- County Easement Code
- Conservation Easements Presentation
- Conservation Options for Heirs
- Cost of Community Services Report
- Newsletter-Preserving Shenandoah Oct 2011
- Newsletter-Preserving Shenandoah June 2010
- Mountain Courier: Protecting the Bounty of the County (Oct. 2014)
Applications And Forms
All applicants must first submit a Conservation Determination Sheet that must be reviewed by the Program Administrator. For questions, call 540-459-6185.
- Application Deadlines
- Conservation Determination Sheet
- Conservation Easement Scoring Sheet
- Donation of Development Rights Application
Purchase of Development Rights Documents
- Letter of Interest (Due May 24th, 2023 for the FY24 review)
- Purchase of Development Rights Application (Complete if selected)
Writing An Easement
- Local appraisers
- Century Farm Designation Form
- Century Forest Designation Form
- Historic Nomination Process
- Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
- Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
- Conservation Plans
- Clean Water Financing
- Popular Practices For Funding Or Tax Credits
- Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share (VACS) BMP Manual
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