CONSERVATION OPTIONS FOR WALWORTH COUNTY LAND
“Conservation must not fail for too much of our native landscape has already been thoughtlessly destroyed . . .it is our sacred duty to preserve what is left for future generations.”
–Jens Jensen, landscape architect
The Geneva Lake Conservancy has helped landowners protect more than 2,000 acres of Walworth County land over the last 40 years. From lakefront property to wetlands, forests and farms, the land in Walworth County has exceptional value for its scenic beauty, its wildlife habitat and its importance to the health of our lakes and streams.
As a Walworth County property owner, you know that your land is special and you may be concerned about its future. With development pressures spreading throughout the county, many property owners are asking themselves: what will happen to my land in the future? Will future land owners care for the property the way I do? Can my heirs afford to keep up the property?
The reality is that unless positive action is taken to protect your land, it may be lost to future inappropriate development and subdivision. The Geneva Lake Conservancy has 40 years of experience in helping landowners to preserve their property.
What Walworth County will look like 50 years from now is being decided day-by-day, parcel-by-parcel by landowners like you. Working with the Geneva Lake Conservancy, we can help you select the right land protection tool to protect your property.
Conservation easements donated to the Geneva Lake Conservancy have helped landowners protect more than 1,900 acres of Walworth County farms, forests, wetlands, meadows and lakeshore property over the last 40 years. As development pressures continue to increase, and, as more landowners realize that they have the ability to permanently protect their land, conservation easements allow landowners to achieve their conservation vision.
When owning land, a person also “owns” many rights associated with land ownership, such as the right to build residences and buildings, place structures such as billboards and communications towers, subdivide the land, clear the forest, subject to local zoning ordinances. A property owner who enters into a conservation easement agreement with the Geneva Lake Conservancy permanently restricts some of these activities in order to protect the scenic and conservation values of the land. The landowner sets the rules for the land in the future and gives the Conservancy the responsibility of enforcing these rules in perpetuity.
Conservation easements permanently protect land while leaving the property in private ownership. Landowners can continue to live on the land, are free to sell their land or pass it on to heirs and can use the property in any manner as long as the terms of the conservation easement are met.
Conservation easements are legal agreements between the property owner and the Geneva Lake Conservancy. These agreements permanently restrict the type and amount of future development and activities permitted on a property in order to protect the property’s scenic and conservation values.
Conservation easements offer many advantages:
- Landowners retain title to their property and may continue to live on it, sell it, or pass it on to heirs, knowing that it will always be protected.
- Conservation easements can result in significant income, estate and property tax benefits for the landowner.
- They are flexible and are written to meet the particular needs of the landowner.
- They are expertly written by the Geneva Lake Conservancy staff and legal team, thus saving the landowner the expense of drafting these easement documents themselves.
- They are permanent, remaining in force even when the land changes ownership. By providing a framework for how the land can be used in the future, conservation easements can reduce the potential for disagreement when lands are passed on to heirs.
Because every property is different, as are the needs of every property owner, no two conservation easements are alike. The easements are written to meet the needs and desires of the individual landowner while protecting the scenic and ecological integrity of the property. The specific activities the conservation easement prohibits are mutually determined by the landowner and Geneva Lake Conservancy.
Giving your land to the Geneva Lake Conservancy is the most direct way to protect it. If accepted by our board of directors, your land will become part of our permanent holdings and will bear the name of your choice. The donor is usually entitled to an income tax deduction for the value of the property.
Land given to the Conservancy for permanent ownership is managed for multiple conservation benefits, including wildlife habitat, watershed protection recreation, scenery and natural area preservation.
A gift of land can be tailored for you to live on the land for the rest of your life. Some landowners donate land to the Trust, while retaining a life estate for themselves, their families and sometimes their farm employees. This can result in a significant tax deduction.
Leaving land to the Conservancy through your will allows you to own and manage the property during your lifetime, while assuring permanent protection for the future. We recommend that you discuss a potential bequest with a Conservancy land protection staff member before including it in your will. Upon acceptance by the Geneva Lake Conservancy Board of Directors, a “letter of understanding” will outline how the land is managed.
The Conservancy may have funds available through its Land Acquisition Fund, which is supported by state grants, private grants and private donors, to purchase land of high conservation value. If you are willing to sell for less than fair market value, the difference between the fair market value and the price you sell it to the Conservancy may be considered as a donation to the Conservancy, in which case you may be entitled to a tax deduction.
Occasionally, the GLC buys land that is considered by Walworth County, Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission or conservation organizations to be of high conservation value and critical to the environmental health of the county. If you believe that you have land that would qualify for a purchase, contact the Conservancy staff who will work with you to determine if your land meets our requirements.
You and your neighbors may agree to voluntarily impose restrictions on the use of your lands. Such restrictions are binding on all current and future owners where the majority of the owners agree to enforce compliance. Sometimes, a conservation easement may be used that would ensure that the Conservancy monitors the properties once a year to ensure that all restrictions are being honored. For example, mutual covenants are often established by waterfront owners who share common concerns about land use around the body of water.
Please contact the Conservancy offices at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk with a Land Protection Specialist or call us at 262-275-5700 to obtain more information about these land protection tools and how they may apply to your land parcel.