The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (WRLF) actively works to preserve ecologically significant, productive, scenic, and accessible open space in the Williamstown area using a variety of land protection methods. Each potential conservation project is carefully considered; the property’s conservation values, its place in the overall conservation landscape, the cost and the benefit to the WRLF and the community, and other factors must be weighed prior to WRLF’s support of a protection effort and resulting commitment of WRLF resources.
The WRLF may hold land or interests in land, or may facilitate projects with state agencies or other non-profit land conservation organizations. Following is a summary of the most common land protection methods used by the WRLF.
Acquisition of fee interests in land (WRLF ownership)
The WRLF as a qualified land conservation organization may hold land in permanent conservation for public benefit. Properties may be acquired through donation or purchase.
Donations of fee interests:
The WRLF may accept gifts of land when appropriate. The WRLF is a 501(c)3 charitable organization, and donors of land are eligible for tax deductions as allowed by current laws and regulations. It is the donors’ responsibility to have a qualified appraisal of their donated property completed at the time of gift to support the value. A monetary contribution from the donor to the WRLF’s land stewardship fund at the time of the land gift helps ensure the WRLF’s ability to carry out its stewardship responsibilities for the property in the future.
Purchase of fee interests in land:
Due to the WRLF’s limited resources, acquisition of land by purchase is not often feasible.
Acquisition of partial interests in land – Conservation Restrictions
A Conservation Restriction (CR) is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust whereby the landowner relinquishes specified uses of his/her property, such as residential subdivision and commercial activities (development rights), and the land trust monitors future compliance. The landowner retains rights and title to use the property in ways that do not jeopardize the conservation values of the property. An example would be restrictions that allow farming or forestry to continue, while prohibiting subdivision or clear cutting. Development rights value is determined by an in-depth conservation appraisal of the property. The value is the difference between the value of the land if developed and as conserved. As with gifts of land, the WRLF requests a monetary gift to its land stewardship fund to support its future monitoring responsibilities.
In Massachusetts, the Conservation Commission and the Selectmen or City Councilmen of the town in which the potential restricted property lies, and the Commonwealth’s Secretary of Environmental Affairs must agree that conservation of the property has a significant degree of public benefit. Scenic open space, prime agricultural land, and significant ecological land are examples of properties on which Conservation Restrictions are supported. In some Massachusetts towns, restricted lands may be eligible for a property tax reduction to reflect the loss of certain property rights.
Landowners considering conservation options for their properties should engage professional legal and financial advisors.
Other financial benefits can include:
Income tax: The donation of a Conservation Restriction constitutes a charitable gift which may be deductible for federal income tax purposes. A qualified appraisal determines the value of the gift as the difference between the fair market value of the property before and after the restriction is donated. This amount is deductible, and can be used in the year of the gift or carried forward as a deduction for a certain number of years.
Estate taxes: A Conservation Restriction may serve to reduce the market value of the property, thereby possibly lowering the overall inheritance tax level. (NOTE: Regulations governing deductibility of conservation gifts have been quite changeable in the last decade. Please contact your tax advisor for the most current conservation gift regulations.)
Massachusetts has active state-wide land protection programs through the Department of Conservation and Recreation (forest and park land), the Department of Agricultural Resources (qualifying farms with prime soils, through their Agricultural Preservation Restriction program) and Mass Wildlife (hunting, fishing, and rare species and habitat protection). State agencies may purchase land or Conservation Restrictions, and may also accept appropriate land donations.
The WRLF can work to bring landowners wishing to preserve their land together with the appropriate state representatives. WRLF might also be able to assist financially to help leverage state funds, possibly through pursuing grants or other funding to help cover the costs of required appraisals and other due diligence work.
WRLF works closely with other regional and state-wide conservation organizations such as Berkshire Natural Resources Council, The Trustees of Reservations, Massachusetts Audubon and The Nature Conservancy, as well as other regional watershed associations and land trusts, to maximize land protection success.
If you are interested in preserving your land, please contact WRLF to schedule a property walk and consultation.