RD13 - Calendar Year 2019 Land Preservation Tax Credit Conservation Value Summary – December 2020

Executive Summary:

The Virginia Land Preservation Tax Credit (LPTC) Program has proven to be a valuable incentive for landowners interested in voluntarily conserving their property through perpetual conservation easements or fee-simple donations. The transferability feature of Virginia’s tax credit program is especially valuable to landowners with little or no state income tax liability, enabling them to sell their tax credits for income. Responsibilities for oversight of the LPTC program are shared by the Virginia Department of Taxation (TAX) and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

Virginia’s Land Preservation Tax Credit Program began in January 2000 and continues to advance the preservation of important lands across the Commonwealth. TAX’s records indicate that as of August 31, 2020, landowners have received tax credits for permanently protecting 961,510 acres across the Commonwealth through 4,338 land donations since program inception. The appraised value of this conserved acreage is about $4.5 billion, with landowners receiving almost $1.8 billion in tax credits.

DCR’s review of LPTC applications for one million dollars or more began in January 2007. As directed by § 58.1-512(D)(3)(a) of the Code of Virginia, DCR follows the Conservation Value Review Criteria as adopted by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation to verify the conservation value of donated land or conservation easements. This verification process serves as an important tool for the Commonwealth to ensure that the lands protected have worthy conservation values and the natural and historical resources are adequately protected in perpetuity.

The tax credit report contained herein summarizes the land donations for which landowners applied for 2019 Land Preservation Tax Credits, within that year’s cap of $75 million. Based on information provided to DCR from TAX for 2019, 190 applications were granted, protecting 41,392 acres and reaching the $75 million cap.

For calendar year 2019, taxpayers in 63 localities claimed tax credits. Fauquier County received 17 land donations, the most of any county. Prince Edward County protected the largest amount of land, at 3,103.6 acres. Loudoun County requested the highest value of tax credits, totaling $6,480,000.

During the 2019 LPTC program year, of the eight conservation purposes that a landowner can claim to be eligible for a LPTC, 77.8 percent of the total acreage preserved (32,193 acres) claimed the Scenic Open Space category. Applicants may claim more than one conservation purpose and many do; however, it is not necessary in order to request or qualify for the LPTC program. The other prominent categories claimed were Forestal Use at 27,818.0 acres or 67.2 percent of the total acreage, and Watershed Preservation at 17,841.8 acres or 43.1 percent. The remaining purposes claimed in order of rank were: Agricultural Use at 16,837.8 acres or 40.7 percent; Natural Habitat and Biological Diversity at 12,528.7 acres or 30.3 percent; Lands Designated by Federal, State, or Local Government at 12,039.0 acres or 29.1 percent; Historic Preservation at 2,589.3 acres or 6.3 percent; and Natural Resource Based Outdoor Education and Recreation at 1,960.4 acres or 4.7 percent of the total acreage.

As reported by landowners in their LPTC application packages to TAX, under the 2019 cap, about 11,759.0 acres of active agricultural land and 18,960.7 acres of active forestal land were conserved. Within the LPTC application, landowners report on the total length of riparian buffers, with a required minimum width of 35 feet, in their donated easements or gifts of land. The applications for 2019 indicate a total length of 678,596 linear feet of forested buffers and 90,838 linear feet of no-plow buffers along rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, springs, and shorelines. The two different categories of buffers differ by the types of activities that are restricted or allowed within the conservation easement or deed of gift. Activities such as mowing or timber harvesting are restricted in forested buffers, but are allowed within no-plow buffers to maintain non-woody vegetation such as pasture or grasslands.

In 2019, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) distributed dedicated funding to land conservation agencies and organizations for their stewardship efforts. Pursuant to the authority granted in Virginia Code § 58.1-513(C)(2), the VLCF Board of Trustees distributed a total of $1,507,831.00 in stewardship funds to 40 land trusts, conservation organizations, and agencies to support their ongoing monitoring and enforcement of donated lands. The dedicated funding is generated from a two percent fee imposed on the sale of LPTCs.

DCR is also charged with conducting reviews of the Conservation Value of LPTC requests of one million dollars or more (based on a 40 percent credit for a donation valued at $2.5 million or greater) and with verifying the conservation value of these donations in advance of TAX issuing a land preservation tax credit. DCR’s review is carried out in accordance with criteria adopted by the VLCF for this purpose. In 2019, DCR reviewed and commented on the conservation value associated with 16 LPTC applications submitted for pre-file review by the applicants.

DCR’s oversight continued to enhance the Commonwealth’s efforts to ensure the conservation value of properties applying for the LPTC. DCR’s review process resolved a number of issues with applications that would have negatively affected the donation’s conservation value if the applicants had recorded their deeds as originally submitted during DCR’s pre-filing review. In addition, DCR’s review helped to ensure that persons eligible for one million dollars or more in state land preservation tax credits also addressed water quality and forest stewardship protections associated with their conserved lands. Although state law allows DCR 90 days to complete its review, on average DCR took approximately 15 days to review a pre-filing application (including a site visit) and three days to verify the conservation value of final applications.