What are the financial benefits of conserving open space, to the landowner and the community?

There are basically four ways to conserve land that fall within this question:

a. A Conservation Restriction or CR, whereby the landowner gives up development rights in return for receiving a personal tax credit for the difference between the appraised values of the property currently and its enhanced value if developed. Part of the transaction is to obligate WRL (or an equivalent land trust) to monitor the land in perpetuity to ensure that all the restrictions are being met, which are also binding on future owners. The land itself remains in private ownership and continues to generate taxes on the full value of the residence and a reduced value on the conservation land.

b. An Agricultural Preservation Restriction or APR agreement between the landowner and the State. Providing the farmland meets the State’s criteria, the owner gives up development rights and commits to continuing use of the land for agricultural purposes, in return for which the land owner receives a one-time cash payment from the State for the difference between the appraised value of the farmland currently and its enhanced value if developed. The APR also binds future owners to agricultural businesses, and the State assumes responsibility for monitoring and enforcement.

c. Chapters 61 Massachusetts tax code. This preferential tax program is for land actively engaged in agricultural, forestry or recreational use of the land. Providing the land meets the State’s criteria, the landowner enters into a deed restriction, commits to conforming land use, and provides annual evidence to the Town to demonstrate the restrictions are being met. Unlike a CR and an APR, however, these deed restrictions are revocable providing the landowner makes up the difference between tax rates (with and without the deed restriction) over the past five years if the land is withdrawn from the programs for development. Future land owners are not bound by these restrictions providing any tax differential has been repaid.

d. A Gift or Purchase of land with WRL (or an equivalent land trust that is also a 501 (c) (3) non- profit corporation) whereby the conditions for land use are established and agreed by both parties at the time of transfer, and are binding in perpetuity. The landowner receives a personal tax credit for the appraised value of the land gift.

Using the following assumptions (55 acres, 5 of which are excluded for the house & outbuildings and the remaining 50 acres are for conservation; and the current value of the property is $750,000), the Assessor’s office provided the following property tax information based on a tax rate of 13.98: Before conservation $10,485; after a CR, unchanged at $10,485; after an APR, $8,711; after Chapter 61A, $8,711; after Chapter 61B, $9,071; and after gift or purchase with a land trust, zero.

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