MALT gains state approval to keep preserving land

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Certification all-important in wake of new legislation

By Vicky Gits

The Mountain Area Land Trust is one of 27 land trusts that have been certified by the Colorado Real Estate Division to continue to hold conservation easements in Colorado.

Certification is crucial, because after Jan. 1 land trusts in Colorado are required to be certified or they could be subject to a hearing and disciplinary action.

Over the years conservation easements have become a prominent way for the state to encourage property owners to preserve scenic, habitat and historic land in a natural state forever, but still maintain private ownership. In exchange for giving up development rights, property owners get state and federal tax credits.

Based in Evergreen, the Mountain Area Land Trust has been facilitating conservation easements in Jefferson, Park and Clear Creek counties since 1992.

MALT has assembled a total of 37 holdings on 8,500 total acres, according to the group’s website, www.savetheland.org. Another 6,500 acres were preserved under other agreements that allow public access, including Beaver Brook Watershed, Blair Ranch and parts of Noble Meadow.

Longtime residents who love the land, such as Janice Tang of Pleasant Park, with 83 acres near Conifer, used conservation easements to fend off encroaching developments.

“We wanted to preserve this beautiful piece of land,” Tang said. “Our whole family and our two children all worked together on creating a conservation easement, and we were all in agreement.”

At the same time, the Tangs maintain the right to sell the property at any time, although any new buyer must observe the restriction the easement places.

“It took about two years, and the land team helped us along,” Tang said. “They talked to us in regard to the laws at the time and recommendations for various professionals.”

The land survey was very old, and it was expensive to bring it up to date, Tang said. 

Corrective action

Land-trust certification is mandated by HB 1353, a bill passed by the state legislature and signed into law in June 2008 after the state real estate division uncovered a number of abusive deals pushed by unscrupulous organizations, mainly to take advantage of tax credits.

Under the new law, any land for which a conservation easement is claimed has to be reviewed, and land trusts or entities that hold easements have to be certified and pay fees for the certification process.

Certification required a huge computer upgrade, assembling the original documents on all deals, scanning them into a computer, backing them up and storing them off-site in Denver, just in case. Several deals were intensely scrutinized.

Procedures the trust had used for years had to be written down and preserved in a large notebook.

It was a long, involved process but worth it. “It’s a good thing to protect the property owners,” MALT executive director Jeanne Beaudry said.

In response to budget considerations, another bill addressing conservation easements, HB 1197, passed the state legislature and was signed into law on March 3. The bill provides for a cap of $26 million each year on the available tax credits for all conservation easements granted for 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The previous total was unlimited and amounted to $63 million in conservation tax credits in 2008.

Evergreen statehouse Rep. Cheri Gerou told the Canyon Courier she voted against the bill because of MALT and because conservation easements are so important to House District 25.

Contact Vicky Gits at 303-350-1042 or vicky@evergreenco.com.