Preservation Options for Landowners

A number of options exist for landowners who desire to keep their lands undeveloped in perpetuity.

Lake George Watershed map

FIGURE 27: Protected Lands in the Lake George Watershed

Just under one half of the land in the Lake George watershed is private land, subject to development pressures. There are many ways to permanently protect a tract of land.

Land throughout the Lake George watershed is in high demand. Many landowners state that they do not want to develop their property, but are unaware of other options. Consequently, the conversion of natural forest areas in the uplands and on the lakeside into residential and commercial uses is slowly, but inexorably changing the water quality and scenic beauty of Lake George.

To provide maximum protection to their property, some landowners have made the decision to permanently keep their land in its natural state. They may have strong family connections to their land and feel a desire to leave protected land to future generations. In the process of permanently protecting their property, some are able to benefit from tax deductions and other financial incentives to enable land protection, while others have made generous gifts in the form of land or conservation easement donations.

Following is a broad array of options for landowners who want to keep their land, or a portion of it, forever wild.

Conservation Easements

The most widely used land protection tool available to private landowners is a conservation easement, which is a binding legal document that becomes part of the property deed and places restrictions on a property.

Landowners determine the content of the easement using a model provided by a land trust. They may allow development of a portion of their land for building a house and keep the remaining part forever wild. They may stipulate forest management conditions, restrict subdividing a property, or prohibit land development altogether. As part of the property deed, future owners are bound by the terms of the conservation easement.

  • Lake George Watershed map

    Key Messages

    1. Lands throughout the Lake George watershed are a limited commodity under great demand. The conversion of these natural forest and lakeside areas into residential and commercial use changes forever, one parcel at a time, the very essence of the lake.  
    2. The Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC) is a critical resource for any landowner who is thinking about permanent land protection.  
    3. The permanent protection of land is one of the finest legacies a person can leave to future generations.  
    4. Whether a parcel of land should be developed or protected is a basic question for anyone developing or selling land.  
    5. Protection of ecologically sensitive portions of a property is an important consideration.
A permanently protected view

FIGURE 28: A permanently protected view

Looking south toward Butler Pond from the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Berry Pond tract that was transferred to New York State in 2015. 

The donation of land for conservation is truly one of the finest legacies a person can leave to future generations.

Conservation easements

A conservation easement is useful for passing land on to the next generation. By removing the land’s development potential or restricting various uses, the easement often lowers the land’s market value, which in turn, lowers estate taxes.

A conservation easement protects the land permanently while keeping the land in private ownership. Such an easement is strengthened when a property owner donates the easement (a binding agreement) to the Lake George Land Conservancy (LGLC), a private not-for-profit organization dedicated to the protection of open space in the Lake George watershed. When LGLC or similar organization accepts a conservation easement, it is accepting the permanent responsibility of enforcing the easement. The donation of a conservation easement to a nonprofit group typically qualifies as a charitable contribution, which may entitle the donor to a charitable income tax deduction for the easement’s assessed value.

As part of giving a conservation easement, the landowner, working with LGLC, identifies specific permitted uses of the property. The easement limits or prohibits certain activities, including commercial and residential development as well as forest management. These activities may include public recreation or private use. An easement normally restricts future development, but it is not a tool to protect land around an existing house unless it includes significant land acreage and associated building rights.

Land Donation

The donation of land for conservation is truly one of the finest legacies a person can leave to future generations. Donated land can become either a LGLC preserve or may be sold or donated to New York State to become part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve. Often, the LGLC helps with the transition of land to the state. This option is used by landowners who do not plan to pass their land on to heirs, have substantial real estate holdings, wish to reduce estate sales tax burdens, would like to be relieved of the responsibility of managing the land, or who desire to make a lasting gift that will help protect Lake George.

If you wish to make a land donation, but believe that the land does not have substantial conservation value, you may elect to permit the LGLC to sell the property, with the proceeds used to purchase more sensitive land.

If you want to retain the use of the land during your lifetime and don’t plan on passing it on to heirs, you can donate a remainder interest in the land. In this arrangement, you donate the property during your lifetime, but continue to live on and use the property. If you want to own and control the property during your lifetime, but assure its protection after your death, you can donate it via a will.

Selling Land

There are a number of ways to sell land to the LGLC or other nonprofit land trust organizations. Figure 28 depicts an LGLC purchase.  

Bargain Sale

Some property owners sell their land for immediate income. Yet, they would still like the property to be protected from development. A bargain sale remedies this situation. In a bargain sale, land is sold to the LGLC for less than its fair market value. Such a sale provides cash and entitles the property owner to a charitable income tax deduction based on the difference between the land’s fair market value and its sale price.  

Full Value

For landowners of properties considered to have high conservation values who are unable to donate or sell land at a bargain sale, LGLC may purchase all or part of the property at its full value. Purchase of land usually requires significant fundraising, even if the state may eventually purchase the land. LGLC appraises the land using professional appraisers and documents the natural resources that are important for conservation. LGLC has developed maps of lands that are considered priority properties, which are given special consideration if a landowner wishes to work with LGLC. See more information at www.lglc.org.

Long-term protection of a piece of land is one of the greatest efforts an individual can undertake to help protect Lake George.