2009 Annual Conference of the American Planning Association Virginia Chapter 11:30 a.m. Friday, March 27 Williamsburg, Virginia OPEN SPACE AND CONSERVATION EASEMENT PROGRAM FAIRFAX COUNTY. John Bell – Senior Planner, Department of Planning and Zoning, Fairfax County
2009 Annual Conference of the American Planning Association Virginia Chapter11:30 a.m. Friday, March 27Williamsburg, VirginiaOPEN SPACE AND CONSERVATION EASEMENT PROGRAMFAIRFAX COUNTY
As local governments examine innovative ways of preserving open space and expanding their conservation efforts, one overlooked model is the establishment of a private/public partnership between local governments and land trusts. Pioneered by Fairfax County and Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (“NVCT”), the private/public partnership has become a key tool in the protection of environmentally sensitive and historic properties in rapidly developing Northern Virginia. Initially Memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), the private/public partnership offers the local land trust access to a stream of income while providing the local governments an outsourced means of implementing their open space master plans. This Presentation will examine the advantages of such relationships, the tools for preservation (principally the Conservation Easement), and how to structure the public/private partnership.
Examples of common restrictions:
70 Acre CONSERVATION EASEMENT on the Potomac Gorge sensitive environmental area on the wildest river running through a major metropolitan area
Estate Tax Savings. The easement value is excluded from the taxable value of the estate under section 2055(f) of the IRC.
Section 2031(c) of the Code provides an additional benefit to easement donors, which can further reduce the taxable value of an estate by up to $500,000.
Section 2031(c) also provides heirs the opportunity to make a post-mortem donation of a conservation easement.
The donation of a qualified real property interest to preserve land areas for the outdoor recreation of the general public or for the education of the general public will meet the conservation purposes test of this section. Thus, conservation purposes would include, for example, the preservation of a water area for the use of the public for boating or fishing, or a nature or hiking trail for the use of the public.
IRS Regulations are loaded with tidbits outlining what will qualify and what not -- one example explaining “clearly delineated government policy” for open space:
For example, the donation of a perpetual conservation restriction to a qualified organization pursuant to a formal resolution or certification by a local governmental agency established under state law specifically identifying the subject property as worthy of protection for conservation purposes will meet the requirement of this paragraph. A program need not be funded to satisfy this requirement, but the program must involve a significant commitment by the government with respect to the conservation project. For example, a governmental program according preferential tax assessment or preferential zoning for certain property deemed worthy of protection for conservation purposes would constitute a significant commitment by the government. (emphasis added)
Thus, in Virginia properties accorded property tax reductions/tax credit.
[T]he Board of Supervisors as a matter of policy encourages the use of open space/conservation easements to implement the County’s goals and objectives for the preservation of natural and heritage resources within the context of Fairfax County's suburban and urbanizing character, in accord with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, and more specifically:
(i) maintain a County Inventory of Historic Sites to recognize the value of significant heritage resources for preservation; (ii) once identified, protect significant heritage resources from degradation, or damage and destruction by public or private action; (iii) promote the use of open space/conservation easement to preserve these heritage resources. Encourage property owners to place easements on their properties, working with the County, a local land trust and/or a state or national entity authorized to hold easements for the purpose of heritage resource preservation.
EQC – Preserve, Protect, Enhance steam corridors
Not Mapped, Applied during rezoning
For ecological resource conservation, identify, protect and restore an Environmental Quality Corridor system (EQC). Lands may be included within the EQC system if they can achieve any of the following purposes:
Habitat Quality: The land has a desirable or scarce habitat type, or one could be readily restored, or the land hosts a species of special interest.
"Connectedness": This segment of open space could become a part of a corridor to facilitate the movement of wildlife.
Aesthetics: This land could become part of a green belt separating land uses, providing passive recreational opportunities to people.
Pollution Reduction Capabilities: Preservation of this land would result in significant reductions to nonpoint source water pollution, and/or, micro climate control, and/or reductions in noise.
EQC – Technical Specifications:
All 100 year flood plains as defined by the Zoning Ordinance;
All areas of 15% or greater slopes adjacent to the flood plain, or if no flood plain is present, 15% or greater slopes that begin within 50 feet of the stream channel;
All wetlands connected to the stream valleys; and
All the land within a corridor defined by a boundary line which is 50 feet plus 4 additional feet for each % slope measured perpendicular to the stream bank. The % slope used in the calculation will be the average slope measured within 110 feet of a stream channel or, if a flood plain is present, between the flood plain boundary and a point fifty feet up slope from the flood plain.