What Is An Easement?
An easement is a binding legal contract, tailored to an individual property, which restricts the use and development of that land forever. The easement agreement is between the landowner and a private land trust such as Land Trust of Bucks County, or a government entity such as the county, state or local municipality (e.g. Solebury Township). In Solebury, the easement agreement is usually between the landowner and both the Township and a private land trust. The agencies involved are said to "hold" / "co-hold" the easement and are responsible for making sure the terms of the easement are upheld by monitoring the property yearly.
Easements in Solebury have protected many properties, both large and small. Farmland with prime agricultural soils, stream corridors, steep slopes, scenic vistas and historic sites have been protected. Since 1998, Solebury Township has preserved 89 properties covering 3,868 acres. An easement may be donated by the landowner, may be a 'bargain sale' (development rights sold at less than appraised value) or may be purchased by the Township for the appraised value of the development rights. Donations and 'bargain sales' offer the landowner tax benefits.
How can a landowner preserve his/her property?
Solebury's "neighbor working with neighbor" is a unique preservation program. The Land Preservation Committee's (LPC) group of appointed volunteers is charged by the Supervisors to work with their neighbors in preserving Solebury's land heritage.
The first step in the preservation process is for the landowner to contact Jean Weiss, Land Preservation Administrator at 215-297-5656.
A Committee member will be assigned to serve as an advocate for the landowner and liaison to the Township. An initial meeting will be scheduled with the landowner at the property to provide an overview of the program's goals and procedures, and to discuss the landowner's goals and needs. The landowner can then complete the Letter of Interest if he/she wishes to move forward.
In Solebury Township, there are agricultural and conservational easements:
- Agricultural easements protect the farm's soils and prohibit further development. These easements can be held solely by the Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation Program or jointly held by Solebury and the county.
- Conservation easements protect a property from further development and conserves the property's natural resources. Solebury co-holds conservation easements with Heritage Conservancy and Land Trust of Bucks County. The property may be sold or willed to someone else, but all future owners are bound by the terms of the easement and are subject to yearly compliance reviews.
There is a third type of easement, a facade easement, which protects the exterior of historic buildings. Facade easements are expected to become a larger part of Solebury's preservation program.
The Open Space Preservation Program eligibility criteria includes:
- Quality and quantity of natural resource features such as prime agricultural soils, wetlands and creeks, steep slopes and woodlands, and cultural and historic values
- Risk of loss to development
- Potential linkage with other protected lands
Once the property's eligibility is approved, the LPC submits the project application for review by the Board of Supervisors. Upon the Board's approval, a draft easement is prepared that documents current land features providing for its future use according to the landowner and Township's mutual goals. The landowner plays a vital role in this process by identifying his/her conservation objectives and helping to define future limits to land use on the property. Alternative preservation methods are evaluated. In the case of agricultural land, the farmer may wish to seek funding for an easement through the Bucks County Agricultural Land Preservation Program. The Solebury Land Preservation Committee directly assists in the application process and the Township can supplement the financial assistance of the county, if necessary.
There are numerous advantages to preserving one's land:
- Still owns the property and has not lost any property value
- Has been paid a fair price for the development rights
- May receive valuable tax deductions
- The value on which inheritance taxes are based has been lowered
Preservation benefits the Community (and the Landowner) by:
- Keeping long-term property taxes lower
- Maintaining the integrity of Solebury's landscape and natural and historic resources
- Enhancing property values
- Protecting groundwater resources
- Reducing traffic pressure on our roads which helps protect our air quality
- Sustaining the rural character of our Township
- Reducing probability of flooding
- Providing stability to agriculture, providing residents with fresh food and nursery stock
- Reducing stress on our school system