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A good year for state’s land

Willing landowners taking advantage of generous state and federal tax benefits made 2013 another good year for Virginia’s land trusts.

For example, as of mid-December, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation—the nation’s largest holder of conservation easements—had racked up 32,067 acres across the state, including the Fredericksburg area.

That’s nearly 6,000 acres more than the 26,375 acres protected in 2012.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements with landowners that permanently protect land from most types of development, while keeping the property in private hands.

Last month, VOF announced that a recently acquired easement in New Kent County had pushed the overall amount of land under protection to more than 700,000 acres.

The conservation easement on Silver Hall Farm has been in the Binns family since 1771, according to a press release. The land along U.S. 60 is about 20 miles east of Richmond. It is VOF’s second easement in the county. The other is on Crawfords State Forest.

“To me, this farm is a legacy from my predecessors,” said Edward Binns, who runs all of the farming operations. “It looks like development pressure is going to increase in the future, and I did not want to see it go under houses.”

That easement prohibits subdivision and limits the number of homes and other impervious surfaces that can be built on the farm.

According to VOF figures, nearly 1,400 acres were preserved in the Fredericksburg area last year. That included: one easement covering 77.5 acres in Caroline County; two totaling 274 acres in Culpeper County; three covering 1,034 acres in Orange County; and one easement encompassing 4 acres in Stafford County.

Final VOF easement totals will be available later this month.

For years, Virginia has had one of the nation’s best incentives for landowners to protect open space. Its program offers up to $100 million a year in tax credits for those who donate their land, or place it in a conservation easement.

The tax incentive amounts to 40 percent of the land’s appraised value. Landowners in 2013 also took advantage of an enhanced federal tax break that expired at the end of the year.

Outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell pledged four years ago that Virginia would protect 400,000 acres during his tenure. As of Monday, a spokesman with the Department of Conservation and Recreation said that just over of half of that—201,558 acres—had been preserved, though there may be more acres in the pipeline.

Fewer landowners may be seeking state tax credits now because of still-depressed land values following the recession.

Another land trust, the Warrenton-based Piedmont Environmental Council, hasn’t yet compiled its figures for 2013.

But Heather Richards, the council’s vice president for conservation and rural programs, said it was a good year.

“I think it will be at least as strong, if not a little bit stronger” than 2012, Richards said earlier this week. She said the agency was still working with landowners interested in getting easements in place in advance of the expiring federal incentive.

“We did three easements in the first three weeks of December,” she said, including 520 acres in Albemarle County, 160 acres in Orange County and 150 acres in Madison County.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

ABOUT VOF

Over the past decade, VOF has protected open space in Virginia at a rate of about 5 acres every hour.

The foundation holds more easements than any land trust in the nation. Its easements help to protect 3,500 miles of streams, 300,000 acres of prime farming soils and 550,000 acres of open space in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

–Virginia Outdoors Foundation

Read more about VOF: virginiaoutdoorsfoundation.org

 

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