Open Space and Land Protection Strategies

Preserving valuable open space land in Douglas County often involves a collaboration of many strategies. Among these are the various land protection tools and techniques, intricate partnerships, dedication and hard work of staff and our advisory board (COSAC), and the support of County residents. Contact the Division of Open Space at 303-660-7495 with any questions regarding the following strategies or with other land preservation questions.

Conservation Easements

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement is a legal document whereby a landowner voluntarily agrees to permanently restrict the use of land to protect natural resources, wildlife habitat, agricultural operations, scenic views, or other unique features. Land trusts (such as Douglas Land Conservancy) and government agencies (such as Douglas County) are qualified to accept, hold, and administer conservation easements.

How does a conservation easement work?

A conservation easement is a legal document that forever restricts development and land use. The land trust or government agency holding a conservation easement is entrusted to ensure that the terms of the agreement are upheld in perpetuity. Annual monitoring by the conservation easement holder is an accepted practice by most land trusts and government agencies.

What are the benefits of placing a conservation easement on private land?

Landowners who place a conservation easement on their land are usually entitled to significant State and Federal income tax benefits. Conservation easement donations can also significantly reduce estate tax and property tax liability. While such benefits can be attractive, most landowners acknowledge that their primary purpose is to ensure the permanent protection of their land from subdivision and development. Conservation easements allow landowners the piece of mind that their property will be preserved, as they see fit, into perpetuity. Future landowners will be held to these conservation practices as agreed upon in the original conservation easement.

Does land protected by a conservation easement necessarily mean that it is open for public access?  

No. While all conservation easements are different, public access is not part of a conservation easement unless specifically agreed to by both parties.

Does a conservation easement necessarily prohibit all forms of development?

No. Conservation easements are often written to allow private landowners to maintain flexibility. Many landowners want to protect their land, but wish to maintain certain “building envelopes” where agreed upon development can occur. The type, amount, and location of development must not significantly compromise the essential conservation values of the property.

What are the fees involved in placing a conservation easement on my property?

Typical fees include appraisal, survey, baseline report, environmental assessment, endowment fees, and other miscellaneous costs. However; under certain circumstances funding from grants, non-profit organizations or other agencies, like Douglas County Open Space, may pay these fees if your land meets with open space conservation criteria or there is demonstrated need.


Fee Simple or Fee Title ownership

What does Fee Simple/Fee Title mean?

Fee Simple is the outright purchase of full title to a piece of land and all rights associated with the land. The owner has full control of the land and is responsible for liability and management of the property.

Does land held in Fee Simple/Fee Title necessarily mean it is open to the public?

No. Land held in Fee Simple by Douglas County may have public access trails; however other restrictions placed on Fee Simple land may prohibit access due to wildlife concerns or other sensitive issues or require liability insurance prior to access. Land held in Fee Simple by private landowners or homeowner associations may have similar prohibitions or restrictions.


Donations

What are the benefits of donating land?

Landowners may donate all or partial interest in their property for permanent protection and receive tax benefits since the property’s fair market value is considered a charitable contribution. The receiving agency then becomes responsible for land management. Many landowners donate property to agencies such as Douglas County Open Space to assure that the environmental values remain protected and because they feel an emotional connection to their land and don’t want to see it subdivided and developed in the future.