We at Potomac Conservancy support the views expressed by Kelly Watkinson in her April 17 commentary on Purchase of Development rights and wish to add a bit to this conversation, initiated by Shenandoah County Supervisor Marsha Shruntz's April 9 letter to the editor.
In our experience, it is common to hear that people support conservation easements but do not wish to see any public funding directed to these easements. While we support fiscal responsibility, we believe it important to point out that productive land, scenic views, and a rural heritage are three of Shenandoah County's key assets. Protecting these assets benefits individual landowners and everyone who enjoys scenic views or local produce, or derives income from agriculture or timber industries.
Conservation easements often require more funding than landowners or land protection entities can afford. Legal protection of a farm or forested property requires a title search, survey, appraisal, and legal review that range in total cost from $5,000 to $20,000 or more. Although these costs are a pittance compared to the land value, they are often a barrier to land conservation.
Our experience at Potomac Conservancy is that affluent landowners receive federal and state tax benefits associated with conservation easements to help offset expenses and loss of property value. However, many landowners with whom we work are far from wealthy and, due to lower incomes, are not able to take full advantage of the tax incentives.
The expense of an easement plus an inability to use tax incentives often means that placing an easement on farmland is a financial loss, something many farms (like other small business) cannot afford. The PDR program compensates landowners for their lost land value and/or easement-related expenses, giving us another tool to protect the county' rural character.
We hope voters and other supervisors continue to understand the value of both donated conservation easements and county funded Purchase Development Rights as valuable tools in limiting urban sprawl, preserving scenic open space, conserving important natural resources, and protecting the rural and historic character and values of Shenandoah County.
Jed Rau, Land Protection Manager
Tracy Lind, Stewardship Specialist
Potomac Conservancy, Winchester