Bill to help local land preservation
SUMMIT COUNTY – A new state law signed by Gov. Owens in early May could help local open space preservation efforts by raising the cap on the annual value of conservation easement gifts.”It gives Todd (Robertson) more buying power,” said Will Shafroth, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Trust, referring to the director of Summit County’s open space and trails program.Given the limited budgets of most local land preservation programs, the new law stretches the funds available for leveraging into significant open space conservation efforts.”Instead of having a limit of $260,000 per transaction, the cap is now $375,000,” Shafroth said. The changes to the state’s conservation easement tax credit program will also enable landowners with more valuable easements to achieve both their financial and preservation goals more quickly, Shafroth said, explaining that land values in many parts of the state have skyrocketed since the original tax credit measure was adopted.The conservation easement tax credit program has helped speed the pace of land preservation in the state significantly, according to Shafroth. Colorado’s land trusts and local open space programs have protected more than 1.6 million acres. About 60 percent of that total was protected with conservation easements. Shafroth said an additional $1.2 billion dollars are needed in the next 10 years to keep up with preservation needs.The idea of the law is to give landowners incentive to keep their acreage undeveloped by offering healthy tax incentives. The program has been used with great success in the Lower Blue valley, north of Silverthorne, and the changes should help keep pace with increasing land costs. Conservation easements are permanent deed restrictions that limit future development but allow property owners to continue owning and managing the land.The changes in the law were designed specifically to address preservation challenges in high-value land areas, said Kris Larson, executive director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.”It’s an indirect way for the state to support local land conservation efforts,” Shafroth said, explaining that many of the complex preservation deals require partnerships among several stakeholders.The measure raises the amount of tax credit available to land owners while remaining revenue-neutral in terms of the state budget, Larson said.
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