Welcome back! I am sorry I didn't answer your question right away, I was away from the computer.
What you are referring to is called a Conservation Easement. Private property subject to a conservation easement remains in private ownership. Many types of private land use, such as farming, ranching and timber harvesting, can continue under the terms of a conservation easement, and owners can continue to live on the property. The agreement may require the landowner to take certain actions to protect land and water resources, such as fencing a stream to keep livestock out or harvesting trees in certain way; or to refrain from certain actions, such as developing or subdividing the land. Conservation easements do not mean properties are automatically opened up to public access unless so specified in an easement.
There are both income tax and property tax benefits associated with conservation easements. Usually conservation easements are donated, although some are sold to a private organization or public agency. An easement might be bought from a landowner strapped for cash, such as one who is trying to keep the family ranch together but who is faced with rising property taxes. Either way, there can be significant tax savings for the landowner. In either situation, the conservation organization or public agency retains the right to enforce the easement promises.
When a landowner conveys a gift of a conservation easement to a non-profit or public agency qualified to hold such interests, the transfer may entitle the landowner to a number of tax benefits. The landowner may qualify for a federal charitable income tax deduction under IRC section 170(h) if he or she donates or "bargain sells" the conservation easement, which requires that the easement 1) comply with state law requirements for easements in land; 2) be conveyed to a qualifying organization to hold the easement; and 3) be conveyed "exclusively for conservation purposes" and in perpetuity.
Assuming that those requirements are met, the amount of the charitable contribution for a gift of bargain sale by the landowner is based on the appraised fair market value of the easement. This is determined by calculating the difference between the value of the property today without (or "before") the imposition of the easement and the value of the property today subject to (or "after") the imposition of the easement. This latter value is determined by the nature of the restrictions and their impact on present and future land use. The resulting amount is the value of the easement for tax purposes. Generally, a property's value is based on its "highest and best use," which often means development.
In addition to the income and estate tax benefits I have outlined above, many states, including North Carolina, allow some local real property tax benefits for landowners who convey conservation easements on their lands. Because property is generally assessed at its fair market value based on its highest economic use and because the easement removes some of the most valuable development rights so that the property's highest and best use is severely limited, local assessors may reduce the assessed value of the property for property tax purposes, thereby lowering the property tax bill on lands encumbered by easements.
Here is a good summary of North Carolina’s conservation easement program. It specifically states that the easement DOES NOT remove the land from the property tax rolls, it just reduces the assessed value for property tax purposes.
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