Dutchess Land Conservancy gets stamp of approval
By WHITNEY JOSEPH - Editor
April, 02, 2009
HARLEM VALLEY — The grass has just gotten greener for the folks at the Dutchess Land Conservancy thanks to a new accreditation from the Land Trust Alliance, a national entity that is the umbrella organization for countless land trusts.
“We’re very excited,” said Becky Thornton, president of the Dutchess Land Conservancy (DLC).
Thornton explained the IRS set up a land trust accreditation commission whose sole responsibility is to work with land trusts so that donors would feel they’re doing things the right way and can feel confident the organizations they’re investing in are reputable. The DLC’s application to get accreditation took a year, during which everything was scrutinized — all transactions, financial records, donor solicitations, money management practices, etc.
“After the yearlong process we found out we were approved, which was very exciting,” Thornton said. “We always worked to maintain the highest standards possible because it proved to the public that, yes, we are doing this.”
Nationally, out of 1,600 land trusts 35 were accredited last year; only eight or nine were selected this year, according to Thornton.
“We’re one of very few organizations nationally that received our accreditation status,” she said. “We’re very proud of that.”
DLC has been around since 1985. As of the end of 2008 it reached a milestone of protecting 30,000 acres of land, which Thornton described as “a really great thing” to have achieved. Its program protects land mostly through working with private land owners who place conservation easements on their property. Those easements place voluntary restrictions that stick with the land forever, spelling out what can and cannot happen to the property into perpetuity. They can help protect certain resources like farmland, wildlife habitats, streams, etc.
“The landowner is typically looking to keep their land as it is currently and wants to retain options for the future,” Thornton said. “Maybe they have a house they want to pass down to their children or they want to place restrictions on what can be built on their property in the future. A lot of easements [allow for] the state or county to privately purchase development rights, so they can work with farmers who want to continue farming but also want to get some equity out of the land, so they sell the development rights but retain ownership of the land so they can keep farming. Then they get to protect the land for the future.”
The land conservancy is an option for all landowners, whether somebody is considering selling or keeping their land and developing it. It’s obviously a voluntary process but it’s one with many options, options those at DLC are more than willing to discuss. And no size property is too small to consider for land conservation, as it’s the value and worth of the property itself, not the square footage, that weighs most heavily in evaluating the land’s merit.
“We’re always willing to talk to anybody. A small property could have a significant resource value and a big property could not be worthy of protection,” Thornton said. “In the town of Amenia the smallest easement we have is on .23 acres that protects these historic beehive kilns. That’s definitely well worth it.”
Thornton said one of the most difficult impediments today is the financial state of the country and the fact that people are trying to raise money to protect their property — something that’s extremely difficult to do. She said landowners who donate easements can qualify for federal tax reductions, but the downturn in the market means many landowners may not be in the best position to take advantage of those reductions. Also, when developers purchase large tracts of land, entities like the Dutchess Land Conservancy try to work with them to preserve the most important portions and encourage development on the less sensitive sections. Thornton said sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.
“We’re not against development. We’re pro-growth, in a smart way that keeps our communities rural,” she said. “I think certain areas of the county are working very hard to do that. A lot of newer zoning codes in the county have codes in them to protect [undeveloped] land.”
According to Thornton, Amenia has some proposals based on zoning that encourages developers to cluster building on 20 percent of the land and keep 80 percent of the land open.
“The southern part of the county has faced rampant development for so long, I think all towns are thinking about it,” Thornton said. “Some have more opportunities than others. I’ve definitely seen a trend and the change is much more favorable toward land conservation, which is exciting.”
The DLC Web site and letterhead will now boast a logo announcing the new accreditation. That will immediately notify people that it’s a credible organization committed to organizational excellence and serving the public, its president said.
To contact the Dutchess Land Conservancy, call 845-677-3002 or go online to dutchessland.org.
© Copyright 2009 by TCExtra.com
Top of Page
Email this article
Printer friendly page