Conservation Options

Conservation Options for Landowners

You own land that is open space and you want to preserve the beauty and feel of this open space….how do you do it? There are two basic ways to preserve and protect open space in perpetuity. One is a Land Donation (a fee title transfer) to the New Canaan Land Trust. With this transfer of title the New Canaan Land Trust owns and maintains the land. The second option is to grant the Land Trust a Conservation Easement. With a Conservation Easement, the family continues to own and maintain the land but gives up the development rights. Within both options, there are several different ways to proceed to the goal of preserving open space. Both Land Donation and Conservation Easements provide tax strategies that will often serve to benefit your family. It is important to meet with an attorney and/or tax specialist to determine the exact tax benefit in each situation. Often the total value of the gift is tax deductible whether against income tax, capital gains or in an estate plan.

Land Donation

There are several different ways to donate land to the New Canaan Land Trust. One is an outright donation and title transfer. A donor would give the land to the New Canaan Land Trust outright and would likely take the appraised value as a tax deduction. A family may grant title during their lifetime or in their estate plan and will. This is particularly helpful when the land has been held for many years by the family and is highly appreciated.


Another option is a bargain sale of land. If the donor needs to realize immediate income from selling his/her land, yet would like the property to go to the New Canaan Land Trust, then a bargain sale is a good option to that end. In a bargain sale, the family would sell the land to the New Canaan Land Trust for less than fair market value. This offers several benefits to the family, provides immediate cash and a tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and the sale price. The New Canaan Land Trust can work with neighbors and land trust donors to provide the balance of funding.

There are several other options available such as remainder interest and reserved life estate. These are lesser used tools in our area and can be outlined in depth by an attorney versed in these options.

Conservation Easement

The second way to achieve the goal of preserving open space in perpetuity is to grant the New Canaan Land Trust a Conservation Easement. A Conservation Easement is a legal agreement between a homeowner and the New Canaan Land Trust that rides with the deed in perpetuity. This means that the family gives up the right to develop the part of the property that is covered by the conservation easement, yet the family still retains title to the land. The New Canaan Land Trust would monitor the property regularly to make sure that the agreement is honored to allow no development. This option lessens the deductibility somewhat as ownership stays with the family and they benefit from being able to use the land in a specific way, as outlined in the agreement. The amount of the tax deductible donation is the difference between the land value with and without the easement. In most cases the land owner will donate the conservation easement, but the easements may be purchased by the New Canaan Land Trust, as well.

Next Steps

Call us! The New Canaan Land Trust has a Land Review Committee that meets to review potential properties and to assist families in their desire to preserve and protect open space.
Please call Arthur Potts at 203.327-2333, President; Chris Schipper at 203.966-0760, Land Review Chairman.

Further Reading

Further information and suggested reading is available on the websites of The Land Trust Alliance (www.lta.org) and The Trust for Public Land (www.tpl.org).