The Pennsylvania Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program enables state and county governments to purchase conservation easements on productive farms. The easements protect the farmland from non-agricultural development.
Agricultural Protection Zoning (APZ) preserves the availability of agricultural lands for farming and thus the agricultural base of the community by constraining non-agricultural development and land uses in designated areas.
Within an agricultural security area (ASA), a farm is entitled to special protection from condemnation and laws and ordinances that would unreasonably restrict farming operations. Local governments in Pennsylvania may establish ASAs but only in response to petitions from landowners interested in enrolling their land in an ASA.
If a land trust intends to amend a grant of conservation easement, implementation of the changes requires careful planning and drafting. The consequences of a poor execution range from missed opportunities to improve easement stewardship to inadvertent elimination of conservation protections.
This guide informs easement holders of legal matters to consider under Pennsylvania law and the Internal Revenue Code when making decisions regarding the amendment of grants of conservation easement.
A landowner may agree to one or more funding arrangements that require the landowner or successive owners of an eased property to make one or more payments to the easement holder to support stewardship of the property. These arrangements may be customized to fit the stewardship demands created by the particular conservation easement and the financial circumstances of the owner.
Extensive scientific research documents that vegetated strips of land along water bodies provide extensive water quality and other environmental benefits. The science shows that development should be kept away from the water’s edge, wider protected strips provide greater benefits, forested buffers are more effective than grassy ones, and forested buffers in headwaters provide the greatest benefits of all.
Within the bounds of state law and private standards of practice, a nonprofit organization has considerable flexibility in establishing policies and procedures regarding the authorization of real estate transactions.
Biodiversity encompasses the diversity of life – the varying and different species, genes and ecosystems of the Earth. The ongoing loss of biodiversity threatens human well-being and makes the need for conservation ever more pressing.
Initiatives in Pennsylvania and on a national level promote the study of bird populations and the protection of their habitat.
Low and no interest, short-term loans are available to help nonprofit organizations complete land and easement purchases for conservation purposes.
A build-out analysis projects the development that could occur in an area under current law. It enables a community to test the reality of its development regulations against its vision for its future.
Clean and Green, established by the Pennsylvania Farmland and Forest Land Assessment Act, provides for lower property tax assessments of land capable of producing agricultural products and timber or providing open space for public use.
At closing, the transfer of the real estate interest, whether land or easement, is completed. This guide helps users organize and expedite the closing.
Many types of collaborative approaches are available to help advance land conservation.
Commission-based compensation for fundraising by staff and consultants, although legal, is widely viewed as a bad practice for nonprofits.
Community visioning is a planning tool that enables residents, business owners, local institutions, and other stakeholders to have a voice in the decision-making process in their community. A community visioning statement will communicate the goals and priorities of the community and ideally inform future planning documents, regulations, and future development.
CommunityViz® software enables users to see what different land use and development scenarios would look like if they were to actually occur. It allows users to create hypothetical scenarios and assess the economic, environmental, social, and visual impacts of those scenarios.
A conservation easement limits certain uses on a property in order to advance specified conservation purposes while keeping the land in the owner’s ownership and control.
A conservation easement limits certain uses of the land in order to accomplish expressly identified conservation objectives while keeping the land in the owner’s control. It is established by mutual agreement of a landowner and a private land trust or government.
Cost of Community Services studies examine both the tax revenues generated by different land uses and the costs to local government of providing services to those same uses. They help people understand the fiscal consequences of keeping land in agriculture or as open space versus developing land for other purposes.
The holder of a conservation easement must monitor the eased property to confirm compliance with conservation restrictions and, when necessary, take action to uphold the conservation objectives of the easement. These and other stewardship activities result in costs, year in and year out, to the holder.
To responsibly accomplish a conservation easement or land acquisition, due diligence is necessary. This guide describes the costs incurred by land trusts and agricultural land preservation boards in completing surveys, baseline documentation, appraisals, title search and insurance, phase 1 environmental assessments and legal services in support of conservation acquisitions.
The costs incurred by a land trust in owning and operating a preserve vary greatly depending on the land trust’s plans for and activities on the land.
This guide focuses on sustainable land management, which devotes more attention to the natural resources in the design of different land uses, and enhances the livability of our communities.
Crowdfunding is a web-based fundraising technique that can generate many small donations in support of an endeavor.
A development threat analysis identifies undeveloped lands that are most likely to be developed within a specific time frame. Information is presented in map form.
Donors who want to help a worthy charity but also need to ensure that they have sufficient assets to live comfortably until life's end may choose to make some gifts via their wills.
Economic impact studies document the many and substantial economic benefits generated by biodiversity. This guide identifies major studies, summarizes key findings of each and provides hyperlinks to the studies.
The conservation of natural lands and of working farms and forests can generate financial returns, both to governments and individuals, and create significant cost savings.
Economic impact studies document the many and substantial economic benefits generated by parks. This guide identifies major studies, summarizes key findings of each and provides hyperlinks to the studies.
Sprawling patterns of development create heavy economic burdens -- problems, costs and liabilities far in excess of the benefits. Conversely, smart growth strategies can enhance economic vitality.
Economic impact studies document the many and substantial economic benefits generated by trails. This guide identifies major studies, summarizes key findings of each and provides hyperlinks to the studies.
All section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate for elective public office. During an election, nonprofits can lobby, provide voter education, encourage voter registration and participation, and participate in issue advocacy if these are done in a nonpartisan way that does not interfere, or appear to interfere, with the election
A municipality's governing body may establish an environmental advisory council to advise the municipality's decision-makers and undertake projects regarding the protection and conservation of natural resources.
Fifty-seven Pennsylvania counties have agricultural land preservation boards that purchase agricultural conservation easements. Sixty-five private charitable organizations accept donations of conservation easements or, less commonly, purchase them. These two paths to farmland preservation differ in many ways.
Converting areas covered by turf grass to meadows can be financially rewarding and relatively simple on both public and private land. It can also deliver substantial environmental and aesthetic benefits.
Landowners can convey a future interest in real property to a conservation organization or government but continue to live on or otherwise enjoy using the property during their lifetimes. If the property is a personal residence or a farm, a donation of a future interest can generate immediate tax benefits.
GPS enables users to easily record the location of natural and man-made features on the land. It allows users to identify where a photo or video is taken, revisit previously recorded features, and more.
Growing Greener: Conservation By Design helps municipalities and developers build new housing and businesses while protecting important natural and cultural resources. With straightforward changes to municipal ordinances, new subdivisions can leave half (or more) of buildable land as open space while being fair to those seeking to develop their land.
Conservation easements are intended to last—to ensure protection of important resources, no matter people’s whims—through the decades and centuries. However, the world changes and so do understandings of how best to meet conservation objectives. A land trust must be prepared to address these changes in order to ensure that its conservation work is effective while assuring its supporters and the public that it is a reliable agent of conservation. This resources serves as both a guide to responsible decision-making and a model policy for easement amendment.
Conservation organizations can avoid many potential difficulties in conservation easement stewardship by ensuring that their conservation easement documents are drafted to conform with the Conservation and Preservation Easements Act.
A conservation easement may have one or more holders responsible for upholding the easement’s conservation objectives. It may have a beneficiary, an entity with some rights to manage the easement in furtherance of the conservation objectives but no responsibility to do so. It may also provide a contingency plan to replace a holder in the event the holder cannot or will not perform its duties. Effective long-term easement management requires that when more than one entity shares easement management rights, the relationship between the entities must be carefully delineated.
An overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians—regardless of party or region—value open space and state investments in conservation.
Forests, riparian buffers, wetlands and other natural lands are essential for the protection of water quality and aquatic habitat.
An individual or organization’s risk of being held liable for personal injury or property damage may be shifted to another party who agrees to accept the risk and who holds liability insurance or sufficient assets to back up the acceptance of the risk. A release agreement guards against a successful lawsuit by the person signing the release; an indemnity agreement, in contrast, ensures that if some other person sues, the indemnifying party will be responsible for handling the claim.
An installment agreement requires the buyer of real estate to pay the seller the purchase price in installments over time; the buyer takes immediate possession of the property but the seller retains legal title as security until the buyer pays in full. An installment agreement can be a low-cost, flexible alternative to a traditional mortgage loan.
Invasive species management programs help minimize the harm of invasive species on natural lands and encourage the health of native plants and wildlife.
Investments can be an important part of a land trust’s financial sustainability. Each section of this brief guide concludes with hyperlinks to useful guidance and articles.
The Land Trust Accreditation Commission offers outside verification that a land trust conforms with a key set of practices within Land Trust Standards and Practices. Accreditation is voluntary. A land trust should weigh the advantages of rigorous, external review against the opportunity costs of obtaining and maintaining accredited status.
This guide describes the catalysts for exploring merger, the exploration and due diligence process, and the outcomes of several consolidations of land trusts with land trusts as well as land trusts with other charitable organizations.
The Land Trust Standards and Practices are widely accepted ethical and technical guidelines for the responsible operation of a land trust.
A landowner may agree to one or more funding arrangements that require the landowner or successor owners of an eased property to make one or more payments to the easement holder to support stewardship of the property. An understanding of what makes promises binding is critical for crafting arrangements that are enforceable over time.
A lighting ordinance can ensure safe, aesthetically pleasing, and energy-efficient outdoor lighting that preserves views of the night sky and minimizes harm to species disturbed by artificial lighting.
501(c)3 organizations can lobby to positively affect legislative outcomes but they must follow IRS regulations as well as state and federal regulations dealing with lobbyist registrations and reporting.
Local municipal regulations can provide substantial protection to historic resources, preserving their contributions to cultural vitality and helping communities maintain quality of life.
When a document needs to be reviewed, edited and approved by more than one person, good document management and control practices help prevent time-consuming missteps and confusion for all the parties involved.
A land trust may merge with another land trust or other conservation organization in order to more effectively advance the goals of each organization.
The Model Grant of Conservation Easement and Declaration of Covenants with Commentary provides users with a state-of-the-art legal document and guidance to customize it to nearly any situation. No easement document has benefited from more real-world testing and peer review.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association develops and maintains model documents to help users complete projects and manage their operations efficiently and effectively.
When a mortgage precedes an easement on a property, there is no guaranty of perpetual enforceability of the easement unless the Mortgage Holder signs a document (sometimes called a "mortgage subordination") that allows the easement to survive a foreclosure of the mortgage. While not easy or quick to obtain, careful preparation that addresses the concerns of the mortgage holder can expedite the process.
Multi-municipal partnerships provide needed recreational opportunities to residents practically and affordably though the sharing of services, equipment and personnel.
Across the political spectrum, voters in the United States consistently demonstrate support for conservation.
Unstructured, frequent childhood play in informal outdoor settings powerfully boosts the cognitive, creative, physical, social and emotional development of children. It also engenders deep conservation values—more so than any other factor. Part 1 of this guide explores the essential characteristics of nature play, the benefits nature play provides and the societal barriers to it. Part 2 describes the array of concrete actions that organizations may take to restore nature play to children’s lives.
Little evidence exists to support the proposition that a donated conservation easement, in the absence of a charitable trust agreement (not to be confused with the grant of conservation easement), is a charitable trust in Pennsylvania; indeed, there is complelling evidence to the contrary. (Holder covenants may be used to buttress easments and do not run into the legal obstacles or suffer from the policy failings of the trust proposition.)
No legal precedent exists in Pennsylvania for finding that a conservation easement acquired by a private land trust is a public trust.
A municipality may express an interest in acquiring specific land (or easements thereon) for trails, streets, parks, open space networks and other public purposes by establishing an “official map” that “reserves” this land. If a landowner seeks to develop reserved land, the municipality has a year to pursue acquisition of the land from the owner before the owner may freely build or subdivide.
An option to sell may be used to assure that a property acquisition can be undone if expectations are not met.
Land trusts have available to them a variety of tools and examples of how to improve public access and provide programming on their lands. By providing new outdoor experiences to adults and children, land trusts may deepen people’s connections to nature and conservation.
The Pennsylvania Land Choices curriculum helps the learner understand the forces and choices that shape a community and region. It engages and enlightens people regarding civic responsibility, the power of citizens in planning the future of a community, and the conservation of natural resources.
In Pennsylvania, local governments may give money, land and easements to land trusts.
The Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program provides current, reliable, objective, accessible information on Pennsylvania’s ecological resources to help inform land-use planning, conservation, and development decisions.
Pennsylvania’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act limits the liability, resulting from personal injury or property damage, of landowners who make their land available to the public for recreation free of charge.
Non-motorized trails can be planned, designed, constructed, and managed in ways that are both physically and environmentally sustainable while creating desirable and enjoyable experiences for trail users.
A visit to a property conserved with a state grant may help a legislator better understand the impact of state conservation investments.
This guide summarizes planning and land use tools available to municipal and county officials under Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code (MPC). This guide also provides links to more expansive and comprehensive resources for those interested in learning more.
The Plant Stewardship Index is a standardized assessment tool that calculates a numerical index reflecting the quality of native plant communities for a given area. It indicates the impacts of invasive plants and can also be used to monitor the efficacy of land management practices.
Before investing time and money in a prospective project, a conservation organization may seek to minimize the potential for misunderstandings with the prospective donor for the project and make the donor’s promise to support the project a legally binding obligation.
Polls show that Pennsylvanians are concerned about a range of environmental issues, from clean water and wildlife conservation to global warming and renewable energy.
Prioritization tools help land trusts and municipalities make better decisions about where to focus conservation efforts and how to allocate limited resources.
Walking is a free, easily accessible activity that improves physical and mental health and connects people with the outdoors. A variety of resources exist for promoting walking.
Preserves, parks, trails and other conserved lands in Pennsylvania are not automatically exempted from real estate taxes. If tax exemption is desired for a parcel, the charitable organization or local government must apply for exemption for that specific parcel. Exemption for one parcel does not guarantee exemption for others owned by the same entity.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association surveyed Pennsylvania land trusts regarding their organizational policies and practices as well as management issues encountered related to their fee-owned properties.
Municipalities may require developers to provide parkland for new developments. They may also offer developers the option to instead pay fees, construct facilities or establish private parkland.
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A purchase option is a right to purchase or lease land or other property interests without any obligation to do so.
Many conservation-related property transactions are excluded from having to pay state and local realty transfer taxes in Pennsylvania.
Organizing essential documents in a secure, accessible system is a fundamental part of conservation easement stewardship. This guide describes the systems of 14 land trusts.
Death triggers the possibility of a federal estate tax on the assets owned by the deceased person as of the date of death (called the "estate"). A conservation easement on the person’s land can reduce the tax owed.
Public access to property for recreational uses–such as hiking, bird watching, fishing and hunting–raises concern about the possibility of liability on account of injury to a recreational user. Pennsylvania law provides some protection from liability associated with public use of property for recreational purposes. Also there are practical steps that can be taken to minimize risk of liability.
In Pennsylvania, death triggers a state inheritance tax on the distribution of the deceased person’s assets (called the “estate”) to the beneficiaries of the estate. Conservation restrictions on land included in the estate can reduce the inheritance tax owed.
Pennsylvanians may vote to establish a tax specifically dedicated to open space protection in their municipality. Voters may also approve borrowing by their county or municipality for conservation projects.
A properly designed release agreement signed by a volunteer or participant in an activity can substantially reduce the liability risks of the organizing or hosting organization.
A restricted gift of cash, land, easement or other property may only be used for a particular purpose rather than an organization’s general purposes. Both donor and donee need to be aware of the issues raised by limiting the use of a gift.
A landowner who is concerned about the future use of his land can donate or sell the land on a conditional rather than absolute basis. A reversionary interest is created by a deed that reserves to the grantor a future ownership right upon the occurrence of some condition.
A right of first purchase gives a potential purchaser the opportunity to purchase before a property is sold to another. It can be a right of first offer, a right of first negotiation, a right of first refusal or a combination of these rights.
A riparian buffer protection agreement limits activities on all or a portion of a property to advance conservation purposes while keeping the property in the control of the landowner.
Riparian buffers—forested or otherwise vegetated lands bordering water bodies—deliver tremendous water quality and other public benefits. Pennsylvania municipalities may ensure the protection and restoration of riparian buffers with their land use regulations.
When a seller wants to close a sale of real estate but the buyer is not yet in a position to fully fund the purchase, the parties can close the sale with the seller taking from the buyer a purchase money note and mortgage in lieu of an all-cash payment.
A sign ordinance can help a municipality reduce signage visual clutter and end business “sign wars.” It also can help protect the existing character of a community, establish, or enhance community identity.
Organizations can enhance and expand their conservation impact by using social media to engage new and existing supporters.
Zoning regulations for development on and disturbance of steep slopes can prevent erosion and reduce the risk of landslides that endanger lives, damage property and infrastructure, harm water quality, and degrade wildlife habitat. These regulations can also preserve the aesthetic character of visually prominent hillsides by discouraging vegetative clearing and excessive earthwork to accommodate development.
Good street and sidewalk design can foster healthier communities by improving public safety, enhancing mobility by fairly supporting all transportation choices, reducing environmental impacts and building community character.
By statute and by common law interpretation, a conservation easement is a real estate interest and is governed by real estate law, in particular, the law of servitudes. This guide analyzes the nature of the conservation easement and the operation of the document granting the easement. It includes discussion of the mechanisms that assist in upholding the easement’s conservation objectives in perpetuity.
Extensive scientific research documents that vegetated strips of land along waterways provide extensive water quality and other environmental and economic benfits.
Traditional Neighborhood Development creates compact, mixed-use, non-automobile- dependent neighborhoods and communities. It serves the needs of people and accommodates growth with minimal waste of land.
Traffic-calming incorporates a variety of design and management strategies in local streetscapes to control volume and speed of traffic for the safety of both motorists and non-motorists.
A landowner may convey to another person the rights to create a trail, open it for public use and maintain it without the owner giving up ownership and enjoyment of the land through which the trail passes.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a zoning technique used to permanently protect farmland and other natural and cultural resources by redirecting development that would otherwise occur on these resource lands to areas planned to accommodate growth and development.
A tree ordinance regulates various aspects of tree maintenance, removal, and planting in a municipality, resulting in aesthetic and environmental benefits.
How can trail groups, local governments and land trusts responsibly plan, develop and operate trails that are accessible by all people, including those with limited mobility? What are best management practices? What is legally required? When is universal accessibility not appropriate?
Urban growth boundaries are used to contain land development by delineating areas where government policy encourages high density, mixed used development from areas where policy encourages rural and agricultural uses. Urban growth boundaries can promote prosperous urban areas and protect farmland and open space.
Simply stated, a land trust is a charitable organization that acquires land or conservation easements, or that stewards land or easements, for conservation purposes. However, this simple definition leaves much to be explained.
Who can assert claims and be heard in Pennsylvania’s courts if a dispute heats up over the management of a conservation easement?
Farms feed us and provide a host of other public benefits. However, every day, the amount of fertile farmland diminishes as development spreads. This guide describes the importance of preserving productive agricultural lands.
Municipalities may adopt zoning regulations governing the installation and operation of solar and wind energy systems. This guide specifically examines zoning for non-commercial installations (for example, residential rooftop solar panels).