BERRYVILLE — A free workshop Thursday evening will enable landowners to learn how they can help preserve Clarke County’s rural environment.
“Nine Myths about Conservation Easements” will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Camino Real restaurant on Crow Street in downtown Berryville. The informal workshop is designed to help landowners decide whether it makes sense for them to put their property into an easement. Refreshments will be provided.
According to county Natural Resources Planner Alison Teetor, a conservation easement basically is a deed voluntarily signed by a property owner that places restrictions on the property’s use. The owner can use the land for farming, sell it or give it to family members, and even build upon it in some instances. But it cannot be redeveloped for commercial purposes.
The deed lasts forever. Should the land ever be sold or given away, the new owner must comply with the restrictions and cannot legally have them removed, Teetor said.
The Clarke County Board of Supervisors established the county’s Conservation Easement Authority in 2002 to administer the easement program, which is designed to protect and preserve land with agricultural, natural, scenic and/or historic significance. Full information about the program is available online at www.clarkelandconservation.org.
“Usually,” Teetor said, “people participate in the easement program because they love the land they have and they want it protected for perpetuity.”
However, both landowners and the county can benefit financially from conservation easements.
Landowners will receive payment for their participation in the easement program, and they may qualify for various income and estate tax benefits, depending on their income levels, Teetor said.
The county benefits because easements help to control the number of homes developed countywide, she said. County officials want new houses to be developed, but they want to control growth to help maintain the county’s rural character.
Controlling the growth of housing also helps the county control its expenses. The more people that live in the county, the more money that the county has to spend on things such as schools and emergency services, and that can lead to higher tax rates, Teetor added.
Anyone wanting to attend the workshop can just show up, Teetor said — no reservation is required. Both county staff members and landowners who participate in conservation easements will be in attendance to describe the benefits and their experiences.
Approximately 26,650 acres in Clarke County have been placed under conservation easements. That is more than 23 percent of the county’s total land area, Teetor said.
Clarke is one of about 16 counties throughout Virginia with active land conservation programs.