let’s ease(ment) into it

Conservation Easement 1

It’s no secret that people are flocking to the Hudson Valley to sail on the Hudson River, explore the Shawangunks and Catskills, and enjoy the food that comes from our local farms. Many, too, are choosing to make this place home because it mixes small cities with rural communities and is still only a short drive or train ride from New York City.

But, all of this interest brings with it new challenges. Population increase naturally leads to more development, and many of the farms and open spaces that make this such a unique area are now at risk of being converted into subdivisions or strip malls. Subdividing large properties for housing and retail stores provide a quick return on developers’ investments, so they are often willing to pay more per acre than single families and farmers. In this way, the demand for living and playing in the Hudson Valley drives land values up, threatens farmland, and leads to sprawl.

In the United States, 13 million acres of farmland were converted to development between 1983 and 2010, averaging 1,320 acres per day. According to the latest USDA Census on Agriculture, Ulster County saw a 3% decrease in the number of its farms and lost nearly 4,000 acres of farmland between 2007 and 2012.

Conservation easements are a tool designed to curb this loss. Land trusts use conservation easements to protect land from development while keeping it privately owned and, in the case of farmland, in production. Under a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily grants the development rights of his or her property to a land trust. The land trust holds the development rights in the public trust, in effect extinguishing them and limiting the land use. Most conservation easements are designed to last ‘forever,’ meaning that they stay with the land even when the property is sold or passed down to family members. This restriction limits what a buyer can do with the property, and therefore reduces the land’s market value. To make up for this depreciation, landowners typically grant conservation easements as a tax-deductible donation or are given financial compensation by the land trust. For this reason, another term for conservation easement is the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR).

In the Hudson Valley we are lucky to have an incredibly strong conservation community and a network of land trusts that have already protected more than 80,000 acres of land. These efforts have slowed the urban-influenced sprawl and are paving the way for smart growth planning and increased state funding for more conservation easements. In 2016, New York State has budgeted $20 million dollars to fund easements on Hudson Valley Farms. In addition, Governor Cuomo recently announced that the Environmental Protection Fund (which traditionally funds statewide conservation easements) could reach a record $300 million. Though many acres of farmland are still at risk, these efforts show the strong leadership working to protect our Valley and maintain the unique quality of life we all enjoy here.

Photo Credit: www.mrvgetaway.wordpress.com

1 comment to let’s ease(ment) into it

  • NYS could save 700 acres of farmland in the Rondout Valley without spending a dime. It already owns the development rights to the former prison farm in Kerhonkson- Colony Farm. Instead, the state is threatening to build a solar array on the farmland. Its electricity will bypass the farm and not benefit the people of our town. Please contact our public officials and tell them to SAVE COLONY FARM!
    http://www.Facebook.com/Friends.of.Colony.Farm

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