Since its founding in 1995, the Land Conservancy of Adams County has worked with local landowners to preserve nearly 12,000 acres of Adams County’s beautiful and economically valuable farmland, woodland, open spaces, streams, and historically significant land. We’re proud of our success, but you might be wondering, what exactly does land preservation mean?
How does land preservation work? The Land Conservancy of Adams County partners with landowners who wish to protect their land from development. Together, we craft conservation easements, which are voluntary legal agreements attached to the property deed that spell out the kind and amount of development the owner wishes to allow on his or her land, both now and in the future.
Does that mean the landowner no longer owns or pays taxes on the land? No. Limiting development on a parcel of land through a conservation easement does not change the owner’s legal responsibility for the land. The owner retains full ownership of the land and remains free to farm or sell the land or pass it on to heirs. The owner also remains responsible for paying property taxes on the land. That said, preserving land through a conservation easement can offer significant income tax and estate planning benefits, depending on the landowner’s financial situation.
Is land preservation the same as Clean & Green or the AgLand Program? No. The Land Conservancy of Adams County is separate from Pennsylvania’s Clean and Green Program and the county’s Agricultural Land Preservation Program. While we have many of the same objectives as these two valuable programs, we differ from them significantly, as we explain on our website (www.PreserveAdams.org).
What are the benefits of land preservation? People tend to think of economic growth and vitality in terms of development—housing developments, shopping malls, and manufacturing centers. Increasingly, however, communities are recognizing that farmland can be an inexpensive source of tax revenue, job creation, and economic growth. While a new housing development may require millions of dollars’ worth of sewer, power, and other municipal services, a farm of the same acreage requires few municipal services, while still creating jobs, generating income, and supplying tax revenue.
How can preserving land improve the local economy? Many landowners cannot afford to limit the development rights to their land without compensation. Fortunately, federal and state grants may be available to purchase easements on qualifying property. Since 2003 the Land Conservancy of Adams County has brought more than $5.7 million in federal funding to the county for the purchase of conservation easements. This is money that otherwise would not have come into Adams County, boosting the local economy as landowners were able to use the funds to do such things as replace barn roofs, upgrade equipment, expand their businesses, or pay down debt.
What does the future hold for the Land Conservancy? Like every organization in Adams County, the coronavirus pandemic has had a dramatic effect on our fundraising efforts as we’ve had to reschedule and reconceive our traditionally popular fundraisers as online events. But the people of Adams County have responded with enthusiasm and generosity—the record-breaking $2.2 million raised at last year’s Adams County Community Foundation Giving Spree for local nonprofits is just one example—and we hope they’ll continue to stand with us to preserve our community’s beautiful and valuable rural lands.
As of this writing we’re working with eleven local landowners to draft easement agreements covering a total of nearly 1,150 acres of rural lands in Adams County. These properties are located all over the county and represent the diversity of the county’s agricultural and natural lands, from fruit farms to hay fields to woodlands. Many contain streams that contribute to our water supply, and others feature the historically significant lands that bring visitors to our area year after year.
Preserving these lands not only helps protect the rural beauty that makes this area such a desirable place to live. It also helps protect essential water resources, while preserving the county’s historical and agricultural character and enhancing the economic strength these bring to our area. And again, in many cases, preserving these lands brings an influx of federal and state dollars to the county, helping to enliven our economy.
The Land Conservancy of Adams County’s commitment to monitoring and enforcing the easements in perpetuity is also a vital part of its future.
What challenges does the Land Conservancy of Adams County face? Federal and state grants that provide funding to compensate owners who limit their development rights generally require local matching funds of up to half the grant amount. Raising the matching funds that enable us to unlock this funding continues to be our central challenge.
The Land Conservancy of Adams County itself operates a very lean budget. The grant money we receive for compensating landowners passes straight through to the owners preserving their land. It’s for this reason that we depend so heavily on our members and other financial supporters to pursue our mission.
How can I help? If you’re interested in helping protect Adams County’s beautiful rural lands—whether you own land here or not—we can use your help! Make a membership contribution, volunteer on one of our committees, and/or help out at one of our events. You might consider supporting us financially by making a planned gift through our Adams Society, or just writing a check to show your support. And if you’re an Adams County landowner who’d like to preserve your land in its rural state in perpetuity, we’d love to talk with you!
Sarah Kipp is the land conservation coordinator for the Land Conservancy of Adams County.