What is the ACE program? The acquisition of conservation easements program was designed to provide a financially attractive way for lower income landowners to protect family farms in Albemarle County and their unique open space resources. It represents an opportunity for landowners to voluntarily sell a conservation easement to a public agency to be held in trust for perpetuity. In turn, the agency will pay the landowner the difference between the value of the property prior to the easement and the value of the property after the easement. The difference in value reflects the land's value as protected open space (such as farmland, forestland or rural use) versus the "highest and best" use (often residential development).
What is a conservation easement? A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement negotiated between a landowner and a public agency or charitable conservation organization in which the landowner agrees to place specific restrictions on the use and development of their property. Since it is a voluntary agreement, the landowners retain ownership of the land and can tailor the easement to meet their specific goals and vision for the property. To be eligible for various income and estate tax benefits, however, the easement must meet a minimum standard of protection to be a "qualified conservation contribution". By promoting a land ethic and responsible stewardship of the property, an easement provides a lasting benefit to the public through the protection of open space, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, air and water quality.
Who can apply? Any landowner in Albemarle County whose land should remain in open-space according to the Comprehensive Plan. The County is not legally obligated to accept an offer to purchase a conservation easement nor is the landowner legally obligated to accept the County's offer to purchase. The Board of Supervisors makes the final determination to accept each proposal to purchase made by a landowner, provided the individual purchase reflects the goals of the current Comprehensive Plan.
Who will hold the easement? The County and one or more other public including, but not limited to, the Albemarle County Public Recreation Facilities Authority and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
How are properties chosen? A ranking evaluation system was created to award points for a number of different values including: 1) open space resources (such as size of parcel and whether it joins a permanently protected area); 2) threat of conversion to development and; 3) natural, cultural, historical or scenic resources (such as mountaintops, working family farms, important viewsheds, scenic highways and rivers, watersheds, productive soils and historically significant properties). Any property that is awarded a minimum of 15 points is eligible for consideration; however, properties in the applicant pool with the highest point total have the highest priority.
Does an easement give the public access? No. Since landowners retain title to their property, they retain the quiet and private use and enjoyment of it.
How do citizens benefit from this program? There is an increasing recognition that farm and forestland, clean water and air, diverse wildlife habitats, scenic vistas and rural character have public as well as private value. The ACE Program provides a means for attaining a balance between landowner's rights and responsibilities and the public value of rural land. The ACE Program supports the goals of the Comprehensive Plan by adding an additional tool to protect the County's natural, scenic, cultural and historical resources, promoting a stable, sustainable and vital agricultural and forestry base, and protecting the County's surface and groundwater supplies.
How much is a landowner paid? ? An independent, qualified appraiser will assess the value of the easement. Once a value is determined, a landowner will receive the "actual value" or an "adjusted value". This determination is based on the landowners average adjusted gross income for the previous three years. Landowners earning less than $55,000 annually will receive full payment while those earning more than $55,000 annually will receive something less than full value (the adjusted value), as reflected in the Income Grid.
Who administers the ACE program? The program is housed within the Albemarle County Department of Community Development, Division of Planning and managed by the Program Coordinator who works with a 10 person ACE committee to promote and oversee the program.
When can I make application to the ACE program? Applications must be submitted by October 31, 2014.