As our society and the pressures of urbanized living change the face of the Hudson Valley, many land owners are contemplating Conservation Easements to protect, preserve, or otherwise maintain local farmland.

Conservation easements are land preservation agreements (easements) where the landowner agrees to limit the use of her land for purposes of “conservation.” Voluntarily entered and legally binding, these easements often restrict commercial, real estate, and industrial development. Indeed, many communities across New York State have actually passed zoning designed to encourage the creation of conservation easements to ‘run with the land.’ These often complex agreements and statutes mean that the use “limitations” that an owner agrees to will be binding on future owners of the land.

In New York, there are several requirements for a land preservation agreement to qualify as a “conservation easement.” First, the agreement must be perpetual and permanent. Second, the land subject to the easement must be physically located in the state of New York. Third, the easement must be held by a conservation agency which may include any federal, state, or local government agency or non-profit land trust. Fourth, the easement must protect open space, biodiversity, or natural resources by restricting commercial, real estate, and/or industrial development. And lastly, the agreement must be filed with the State Department of Environmental Conservation. Since most “conservation agencies” are non-profit, the sale or gift of such conservation easements often is a charitable donation and potentially limits taxes.

Conservation obviously touches a nerve and fosters a debate among residents, politicians, land owners, farmers and developers as to the efficacy of such agreements. If you are contemplating such an easement, you should definitely hire a real estate attorney capable of explaning the issues to you.

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