A conservation easement is a legal agreement through which a landowner agrees to permanently limit the type and amount of development on his or her property while retaining ownership and certain other rights to use of the land. Landowners who sell an easement to the City receive cash and property tax relief in return for extinguishing their development rights in perpetuity. The City’s nine million water consumers—who represent half New York State’s population—benefit from permanently protected private lands that will not be developed.
Under the City’s Conservation Easement Program, DEP buys easements at fair market value from willing sellers who then receive perpetual property tax benefits that are proportional to the easement’s value relative to the overall property.
For additional information about selling conservation easements to the City, please call 1-800-575-LAND (5263) or download DEP’s Conservation Easement Program brochure.
A unique conservation easement program has also been developed for farmers in partnership with the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC). For more information about this program, please contact the WAC at 607-856-7790 or visit www.nycwatershed.org.
Conservation Easement Stewardship
When the City purchases conservation easements on watershed lands, DEP assumes the long-term responsibility for monitoring these easements and working with landowners to review and/or approve certain activities as allowed by the easement.
DEP inspects all conservation easements on a regular basis, typically at times that are convenient for the landowner. Many of these inspections involve DEP staff walking the property and interacting with easement landowners to discuss salient issues. Easements may also be inspected aerially, usually when leaves are off the trees which afford a better view of the property. Landowners are always given advance written notice of all DEP easement inspections.
Many activities are allowed on conservation easement properties, with certain activities requiring DEP review and approval to ensure water quality protection. For example, on most DEP easements, agricultural use of less than ten acres is allowed as a reserved right, whereas farming more than ten acres may be allowed following DEP review and approval of a farming plan. DEP offers many resources to assist landowners in achieving their property management goals while at the same time protecting water quality from negative impacts of specific land use activities.
The sheer number of conservation easements held by DEP inevitably means that a small number of stewardship violations will occur. Violations may result from the failure of a landowner to notify DEP about a particular activity, a misunderstanding about the easement language itself, or in some cases an outright violation of the easement requirements or limitations. DEP believes that the best way to avoid easement violations is to build strong relationships with landowners so that any violations are resolved quickly and amicably.