WHAT IS A LAND TRUST?
A land trust is a legal entity that takes ownership of or monitors a piece of conservation property at the behest of the property owner. Like other trusts, each land trust’s terms are unique. Aransas First is a member of the Texas Land Trust Council.
A conservation easement is a voluntary, written agreement between a landowner and the “holder” of the conservation easement under which a landowner voluntarily restricts certain uses of the property to protect its natural, productive or cultural features.
Landowners can convey conservation easements to a land trust. For this, they can receive a tax benefit while protecting the land from future environmental damaging usage. Simple donations of land or monies to purchase land are considered charitable contributions.
The Different Types of Land Trusts
1. Fee simple gifts of land from a donor (Charitable donations like the Wood’s Tract, Spencer tract)
Owner can write off taxes as charitable donation
A fee simple transfer land ownership is the clearest and most typical form of land ownership. Most all real estate transactions involving transfer of ownership are fee simple transactions. Land is exchanged for mutually acceptable payment and all rights to the land are transferred to the new owner.
With a fee simple donation a typical appraisal of the land value determines the donation value. You eliminate the somewhat subjective value calculation associated with an easement donation. The donor also has a higher level of certainty that their objectives for protecting the land are met by allowing the land trust to own the land. By donating the land you also have much greater opportunity to allow public access and benefit.
2. Conservation easements to a land trust limits future development to preserve conservation value (appraised at highest potential value minus estimated expense (charged off over 15 years up to 50% of taxable income/yr) or from other nonprofits to guarantee its future (like the Connie Hager tract).
A conservation land trust requires that the property owner give up some rights over land use and development. The goal of a conservation land trust is to protect wildlife, historical or cultural sites, and natural resources from commercial development or other activities that may lead to disruption or pollution.
In a conservation land trust, the trust doesn’t necessarily take over the land title unless the property is donated in its entirety. Instead, a landowner can enter into a legally binding agreement, called a conservation easement, thereby “donating” their development rights to the trust. The trust is tasked with ensuring the easement is enforced and, in some cases, managing the property. With an easement the donation value for tax purposes is the difference between the value of the land pre and post easement.
Conservation easements can be tailored so that the landowner retains ownership and usage rights—such as the right to continue farming or raising livestock—while still ensuring that the land remains undeveloped in perpetuity. Conservation easements “follow the land,” which means that the terms of the easement remain in force even if the land is sold or passed to heirs.
3. Long term lease and management of a property (TxDOT, City, Nav. Dist.)
4. Purchase land or easements through grants or with donated funds (recent large donation of monies to be used as matching funds to acquire critical habitat on Lamar Peninsula)