A conservation easement is a voluntary and permanent agreement between a landowner and Dakota County and the U. S. Department of Agriculture that specifies restrictions on development and land use. When a landowner voluntarily sells a conservation easement to Dakota County, the land remains in private ownership. However, landowners give up some rights to the property, including the right to develop the property. Easements for agricultural land are written to allow typical agricultural uses. The easement is recorded with the property deed.
These easements are permanent and transfer to all future owners. Landowners need to disclose the existence and terms of the conservation easement when trying to sell the property.
The Dakota County program has targeted high-quality farmland within ½-mile of designated rivers and streams, and adjacent to protected land that is outside the area planned for the orderly extension of city sewer and water. A map of eligible farmland and a list of eligibility criteria are available to determine whether your land would qualify.
Cost to apply
There is no fee to apply to the program. Once the applications have been scored and ranked, and approved by the Board of Commissioners, landowners of the highest-ranking projects will be asked to provide a $750 refundable deposit to proceed with an independent appraisal of the property’s value.
Payment for easements
An independent appraiser determines the fair market value of the conservation easement. The standard easement appraisal actually consists of two appraisals. The first appraisal is a traditional appraisal of the land as it would sell on the open market. The second is an appraisal of the land value with the restrictions placed on the land with the easement.
The value of the conservation easement is the difference between the two appraisals. Since the property will remain in private ownership, Dakota County has set a maximum of $5,000 per acre of County funds that can be spent on a conservation easement on private land.
Public access not required
If a landowner sells a conservation easement to the County, they aren’t required to allow public access. However, owners willing to provide some level of public access (fishing, hunting or hiking) receive higher priority in the selection process.
The land remains private property and the owner retains most of the property rights. However, conservation easements restrict the right to develop, to mine and to build structures. The land must be managed in accordance with a jointly approved Stewardship Plan. Plan requirements include permanent vegetative buffers along streams and wetlands, as well as standard erosion control measures. Septic systems on the property must meet all current County and State standards, unused wells must be sealed, and all garbage, old equipment and debris must be removed and properly disposed.
Dakota County will monitor the conservation easement by completing an annual site visit or contract with other agencies to monitor the easement on the County’s behalf.
Accepting less than fair market value
Landowners may wish to accept an offer for their property at less than the appraised fair market value for tax considerations, estate planning purposes, and to make their applications more competitive in the selection process.
Reasons to sell easement
Farmers have cited the following reasons for selling a conservation easement:
- Protecting farmland for future generations
- Raising capital to expand operations
- Diversifying investments
- Transferring farm/estate without dividing or selling farm
- Taking cash out without selling title