Land Conservancy Hits 1000acre Mark

May 15, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND HAVEN – With one final donation, the Land Conservancy of West Michigan reached 1,000 in 2000. The Conservancy completed four projects that brought the number of acres of West Michigan natural and rural land it has preserved to over 1,000 acres.

The final donation that contributed to the 1,000-acre achievement was the donation of a conservation easement by Grand Haven residents Martin and Dorothy Johnson. The Johnsons worked with the Land Conservancy to forever limit development on their eight acres of wooded dunes in the Stickney Woods subdivision.

The conservation easement allows the Johnsons to keep the property in their private ownership and to maintain their residence. What they voluntary relinquished were their rights to create additional residential lots or to do anything that would damage the dune ridges and valleys that support local wildlife and migratory songbirds. These restrictions are binding on all future landowners.

The deal the Johnsons and other landowners make with the Land Conservancy is to preserve the land forever. According to the Land Conservancy, if the land is sold, the Conservancy will continue to annually monitor the property to maintain conservation easement restrictions.

“We believe that leaving the land in its natural state is an important part of protecting the character and quality of life in our town,” said Martin Johnson. “This has been a great opportunity for us to work with the Land Conservancy.”

While the Johnsons chose to preserve their land through a conservation easement, that is not the only way to go. Julie Stoneman, Land Conservancy executive director said there are actually three ways the Land Conservancy goes about getting its land. One way is to buy the land. “This is not the most popular way to go about acquiring land because it does require fundraising, but if there is a piece of land that is desirable and we think needs to be preserved, then we will purchase it.”

“People can also donate land. This can be as a gift or a planned gift to the department and we will preserve that land for them,” she added. The last way is the way the Johnsons chose - a land conservation easement.

“It’s always a privilege to work with families like the Johnsons who are willing to save their natural or rural land for the benefit of the community,” said April Scholtz, Land Protection Director for the Land Conservancy. “I’m delighted that the Johnsons are helping us get the word to other landowners that conservation easements can make it affordable for families to preserve land that they value.”

When a landowner donates a conservation easement, they may become eligible for tax benefits such as a deduction for a charitable donation on their personal income taxes. The announcement of the tax benefits depends on the value of the donated development rights as well as the landowner’s tax situation.

A property tax deduction is also a possibility said Stoneman. “The deduction is always calculated at the highest value of the property. When a landowner sells their property for development it is at the lowest value possible, if they donate it and determine it will never be developed, then it is at the highest value possible.”

Last year the Land Conservancy, that works directly with landowners and communities to permanently preserve land that it values, completed three other conservation easements that preserved 212-acres of scenic farmland and natural land in Allegan and Kent counties. They also assisted the cities of Norton Shores and Kentwood in acquiring natural land for its park systems.

The Land Conservancy of West Michigan, the only land trust solely devoted to preserving West Michigan’s natural lands and open spaces, has now protected 1,200 acres through the acquisition of five nature preserved and 11 conservation easements, and through four government assistance projects. And Stoneman says there are still many good projects in the works.

“1,000-acres is a great landmark for us,” said Stoneman. “More importantly for our fast-growing region, we are well on the way to conserving our next 1,000 acres, thanks to the generosity of landowners who value their land and to our growing local membership, which supports our work in the west Michigan region.”

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