Across the country, private nonprofit land trusts have protected millions of acres of high-quality natural lands through the use of conservation easements. The savings to taxpayers have easily been in the billions of dollars.
Conservation easements keep land in private hands and on the tax rolls--while protecting significant scenic and natural resource conservation values. As with all aspects of the tax code, however, some people try to take advantage of it or file fraudulent claims. That fact does not diminish the importance of permanent conservation easements.
In this particular case, the so-called "conservation easement" was NOT given to a nonprofit land trust. It wasn't even truly given to a qualified government agency (as required by law), since the County to which it was deeded was not a party to the conservation easement and didn't even sign a federal Form 8283 which is required to acknowledge receipt of a charitable noncash donation.
Further, the property in question was zoned to allow for 30 houses. The developer asserted that he could construct 60 houses, and claimed to "limit" his development to 30 houses. Upon this specious claim, he attested that the "easement" devalued his property by over $3 million; even though he recently paid less than $3 million for the entire property, and still went ahead and built 30 houses on the property.
This case should not be viewed as an attack against conservation easements. It should rightly be viewed as repudiation of a developer who tried to take advantage of provisions of the tax code which are meant to garner significant and lasting benefit to all taxpayers, now and in the future.
Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy
8383 Vreeland Road
Superior Township, MI 48198