Timing a conservation easement transaction can be critical in meeting a landowner's needs, or in structuring a real estate sale. It is best to contact the Land Trust as early as possible when considering easements. If an easement is to be accepted by the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, the Land Trust must participate in developing its terms. The general steps involved in placing an easement are outlined below.
THE EASEMENT PROCESS
Land Trust staff visits the property, discusses the landowner's preservation and future development options, and assists the landowner in deciding on conservation goals. The staff also assesses whether the property meets the Hudson Highlands Land Trust's criteria for acceptance of conservation easements.
Land Planning Analysis
Often, a well-sited home will not compromise the important open space attributes of a property. Planning for some limited development may be the best means of addressing financial and family goals while assuring preservation of the overall character of the property. If the landowner wishes to explore limited development options, the Land Trust will assist in determining what development might be considered without compromising the conservation objectives required for the Land Trust to accept the donation of an easement.
The Land Trust prepares a draft legal document that reflects the agreements reached between the landowner and Hudson Highlands Land Trust. The document spells out the development rights to be restricted and the use rights to be retained by the landowner.
Once an easement document is agreed upon by both the landowner and the Land Trust, it is reviewed by each party's respective attorneys. The Land Trust also undertakes a Last Owner Lien and Title Search on the property, prior to final review and acceptance by the Land Trust's Board of Directors or Executive Committee.
Documenting the Easement
The Land Trust visits the property to photograph its condition at the time of the easement transaction. The photographs, along with maps and other information, are part of the "baseline documentation" for the property. These records will enable the Land Trust to determine whether significant alterations have occurred in the future.
Executing and Recording the Final Agreement
The finalized conservation easement is signed and notarized by both parties and recorded with the County Clerk. In some cases, the Land Trust can hold the easement in escrow until adjacent landowners place similar restrictions on their land. The recording of the easement can be postponed until several neighbors act together to place easements.
The Land Trust requests a contribution to the Conservation Easement Stewardship Fund to cover costs of documenting the easement, of annual monitoring, and of possible enforcement of the terms of the agreement in the future (see below). The amount requested is usually a small percentage of the value of the easement. Endowments can be considered a landowner's insurance policy to guarantee the long-term enforcement of the conservation easement, while also being tax-deductible.
Monitoring and Enforcement
After the easement has been recorded, representatives of the Land Trust annually notify the landowner and conduct a monitoring visit to the property to ensure that the easement agreement is being upheld. If structures are permitted under the easement, the Land Trust reviews plans and monitors construction for compliance with the plans. If a violation occurs, the Land Trust requires voluntary correction, and if necessary, takes legal action to enforce the easement.