WHAT IS A CONSERVATION EASEMENT?
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that allows a landowner to limit the type or amount of development on their property while retaining private ownership of the land. The easement is signed by the landowner, who is the easement donor, and an organization such as Historic Georgetown, Inc., accepts the easement with the responsibility of upholding the specific terms of that easement. As an example, perhaps there is a beautiful historic home in Georgetown, and the current homeowner would like to ensure that the home's façade never be altered in a manner that would negate the homes contributing status in the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. The homeowner could donate a façade easement knowing that the home would forever keep its architectural and historical integrity. A future owner of the home could not break the terms of the easement without the threat of suit from the easement-holding entity. Another example is a land owner who cherishes the beauty of his ranch, values the wildlife that resides there, and recently preserved an old miner's cabin from 1877 that sits on the bank of the creek. The land owner could place a conservation easement on the land with the intent to preserve, in perpetuity, the cabin that whispers stories of placer mining in Colorado. The easement could also serve to conserve the scenic beauty and rare wildflowers that abound.
A conservation easement can contain differing levels of predetermined conditions on a piece of property. For example, a land owner may place an easement on certain aspects of his land that would restrict development to a small portion of that land, or owner could limit development on the entire property. The activities allowed by a conservation easement truly depend on the owner's wishes and the unique aspects of the property. The land owner continues to own the property after executing an easement. Therefore, the owner can sell, lease, or gift the property...just as before. But all future owners assume ownership of the property subject to the conditions of the easement. The public does not have access to the property simply because there is an easement on the property unless the original landowner grants such rights when donating the easement. Most easement donors do not want, and therefore do not allow, general public access to their property.
Once an easement is executed, the property owner retains full right to control and manage their property within the limits of the easement. The landowner continues to bear all costs and liabilities related to ownership and maintenance of the property. The entity that holds the easement monitors the property, usually on an annual basis, to ensure compliance with the terms of the easement. The easement holding entity has no management responsibilities nor exercises direct control over any other activities on the land. The easement holding entity must be a qualifying conservation or historic preservation organization or a government for the owner to receive tax benefits.
The United States Internal Revenue Services provides tax benefits to many landowners in the form of a federal income tax deduction for the gift of a conservation easement. In order for the easement to earn the deduction, it must be perpetual and donated exclusively for conservation purposes. The amount of the tax deduction is determined by the value of the conservation easement. Furthermore, the donor may be entitled to estate and property tax relief. According to Section 170 of the IRS tax code, donation of a conservation easement on a property listed on the National Register of Historic Places can qualify as a charitable deduction for federal income, gift, and estate tax purposes. The amount of the deduction is equal to the reduction in the property's fair market value as a result of the easement. Although valuation and tax savings can become complex to determine, land owners may save substantial amounts of money on tax returns. Always consult your financial adviser or tax attorney whenever considering the donation of a conservation land or façade easement.
Currently, Historic Georgetown holds a total of ten conservation easements in and around the Georgetown-Silver Plume National Historic Landmark District. Five of those are conservation façade easements and the remaining five are conservation land easements. Each summer, volunteers and staff members visit each property to ensure that the terms of each individual easement are being honored and upheld. Historic Georgetown's easement program is protected by the Stewardship Fund. In addition to the ten easements that the organization holds, it has also donated conservation façade easements on two of its properties: the Hamill House Museum and the Centennial Mill. These two easements help protect the investment of the Colorado State Historical Fund's grant monies that helped rehabilitate and restore these important properties.
If you are interested in learning more about conservation easements, please call office staff at (303) 569-2840.
Historic Georgetown, Inc.
Home of the Hamill House Museum and Alpine Hose #2 Museum