Q: What is a land trust?
A: A land trust is a nonprofit charitable organization whose primary mission is to actively conserve land. Land trusts work closely with landowners and the community to conserve land by accepting donations of land, purchasing land, negotiating private, voluntary conservation agreements on land, and stewarding conserved land for generations to come. The North Shore Land Alliance is a nationally accredited land trust through the Land Trust Alliance, and is a qualified conservation organization under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3).
Q: What kinds of properties potentially qualify for a conservation easement?
A: In order for the Land Alliance to implement a successful and efficient land protection program over time, it must be judicious in using limited resources and evaluate each prospective project with great care. The Land Alliance will, therefore, accept easements if the following standards are met:
1. The land protection project is fully supported by Land Alliance Board of Trustees.
2. The property is within its “designated geographic area” consisting of Long Island’s North Shore lying between the Queens/Nassau County Border and the western border of the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Sound and the Northern State Parkway.
3. The owner is a willing participant who agrees to voluntarily enter into a legally binding conservation agreement that is enforceable and perpetual.
4. The conservation plan is consistent with existing public policy and programs focusing on conservation of the North Shore of Long Island (ie: Town, County and State conservation plans, delineated public policy, and shoreline, watershed and aquifer protection efforts, etc.)
5. Protection of the property will yield a significant public benefit due to the property possessing unique and/or outstanding natural feature(s). One factor alone may be adequate although a combination of factors may exist. Each project is evaluated on its own merits after investigation of whether the property has value in one or more of the following categories:
- Wetland, recharge areas or other lands necessary for the protection of Long Island’s natural aquifer and surface water areas
- Lands that contain endangered, threatened or rare species or natural communities
- Lands that contain, or have the potential to contain, ecosystems or educational or scientific value
- Lands that are recognized to possess outstanding scenic qualities
- Historic properties
- Active agricultural land
- Lands that constitute “open space” for the protection of the natural, rural quality of the North Shore
- Lands that link or are contiguous to other “protected” lands.
Certain considerations may lead to a decision not to pursue a potential project. Such circumstances may include but are not limited to:
1. The landowner insists on provisions in the easement agreement that the Land Alliance believes would seriously diminish the property’s primary conservation values or the ability to enforce the terms of the easement.
2. The Land Alliance has identified a more qualified local organization to hold the easement.
3. There is reason to believe that an easement would be unusually difficult to enforce due to, for example, multiple and fractured ownerships, frequent incidence of destructive trespassing, fencing restrictions irregular configuration, etc.
4. Adjacent properties are being developed in a manner that is likely to significantly diminish the conservation values of the property in question.
5. The cost associated with conserving the property is simply too great.
All of the preceding notwithstanding, the Board of Trustees of the North Shore Land Alliance retains discretion over qualifying conservation easement projects and will review each prospective project on a case-by-case basis.
Q: Do conservation easements allow public access on my property?
Conservation easements do not require public access. The conservation easement can be crafted in a way that meets a landowner’s specific needs. Some individuals might want to donate a conservation easement that will, in effect, turn it into a public park, with nature trails and public access. Others may simply want to restrict future development in perpetuity and reserve more private property rights. A conservation easement does allow the holder of the easement (the Land Alliance) to monitor the restricted land and enforce the terms of the conservation easement.
Q. How long does a conservation easement last?
A: Most conservation easements are permanent. A property under conservation easement may be sold or inherited, but future owners of the land must follow the terms of the easement. Only perpetual conservation easements can potentially confer tax benefits to the donor.
Q: Is there any cost to me in placing my property under a conservation easement?
A: Yes. There are some costs accrued by the landowner in placing a conservation easement on a property. Costs may include, but not be limited to, attorneys, accountants, title/closing, updated/new survey, and appraisal. We also request a stewardship contribution to ensure that we are able to uphold the terms of your conservation easement in perpetuity. A promise to protect land forever means that the Land Alliance has to have the resources necessary to ensure that we are a healthy, viable organization in perpetuity. We will be happy to discuss these specifics with you at any time. Please contact Stephen Searl stephen@northshorelandalliance, our Director of Land Conservation, to learn more about the costs and process.
Q: Are you confident that creating a program of permanent ‘green spaces’ will help sustain the value of our property without reducing tax revenues to village government?
A: The common experience of land trusts across the country is clear: A program of ‘green spaces’ protection not only sustains existing property values (protecting them from reductions caused by overbuilding and excess suburbanization) but also enhances property values in the area. Even though donations of land and conservation easements may result in the short-term reduction of property taxes, the general rise in property values offsets any revenue lost to local government. Most of the real estate tax value is related to structures (i.e., houses) on the land, not the land itself, and we have found that most villages do not experience a noticeable revenue loss, even in the short term.
Q: How does the Land Alliance relate to other organizations (e.g., village government, county and state government, The Nature Conservancy of Long Island)?
A: The Land Alliance has no formal relationship with local governments, but seeks to collaborate and partner with all levels of government on issues of preservation and conservation. The Land Alliance is an independent organization that exists ‘parallel to,’ enjoys a close relationship with, and has many members in common with local community groups and organizations. Since the founding of the organization, the Land Alliance has collaborated with many like-minded organizations whose intent is to further conservation on the North Shore of Long Island, and we often draw on the services of The Nature Conservancy of Long Island for assistance and advice.
Q: Can there be ‘naming’ opportunities for land donations?
A: Yes. The Land Alliance will be prepared to name parcels of land in honor of interested donors. Examples might be the Francis Mayer Meadow or the Slate Family Woods or the Anne Hightower Salt Marsh.