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Conservation Easement Property Tax Exemption Highlights
Application to ARC Management Plan Guide List of Nonprofits

 

Guidelines and Procedures for the Implementation of HB7157

Property Tax Exemption for Real Property Used for Conservation Purposes

Approved by the Acquisition and Restoration Council December 11, 2009

Background:  The 2009 Legislature, in its implementing legislation for Constitutional Amendment Four, provided for exemptions from ad valorem taxation for lands used for conservation purposes. Section 196.26(2), F.S. states that:

“Land that is dedicated in perpetuity for conservation purposes and that is used exclusively for conservation purposes is exempt from ad valorem taxation.” ‘Dedicated in perpetuity’ is defined as ‘land encumbered by an irrevocable, perpetual conservation easement.’

Section 196.26(4), F.S. goes on to state that “Land that comprises less than 40 contiguous acres does not qualify for the exemption provided in this section unless in addition to meeting the other requirements of this section, the use of the land for conservation purposes is determined by the Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) created in s. 259.035 to fulfill a clearly delineated state conservation policy and yield a significant public benefit. In making its determination of public benefit, ARC must give particular consideration to land that:

(a)  Contains a natural sinkhole or natural spring that serves a water recharge or production function;

(b)  Contains a unique geological feature;

(c)  Provides habitat for endangered or threatened species;

(d)  Provides nursery habitat for marine and estuarine species;

(e)  Provides protection or restoration of vulnerable coastal areas;

(f)   Preserves natural shoreline habitat; or

(g)  Provides retention of natural open space in otherwise densely built-up areas. 

  • Any land approved by ARC under this subsection must have a management plan and a designated manager who will be responsible for implementing the management plan.” The statute further requires that the conservation easement that serves as the basis for the exemption must include baseline documentation as to the natural values to be protected on the land, and that structures and other improvements situated on lands receiving the exemption and the land immediately surrounding such buildings and improvements must be assessed separately.

Please Note:

A landowner must have an executed and recorded conservation easement before ARC can consider his or her property under this provision.

If a landowner has a conservation easement on property that is 40 acres or greater in size, it is not necessary for ARC to consider it. A landowner with 40 acres or more should work directly with his or her local property appraiser.

Finally, s. 196.26(9), F.S. states that “The Acquisition and Restoration Council, created in s. 259.035, shall maintain a list of nonprofit entities that are qualified to enforce the provisions of a conservation easement.”

Procedures and Guidelines for (1) Application to the Acquisition and Restoration Council and (2) ARC determination that an easement fulfills a clearly delineated state conservation policy and yields a significant public benefit:

(1) To have a conservation easement considered by the Council for determination of whether or not an easement under 40 acres in size fulfills a clearly delineated state conservation policy and yields a significant public benefit, applicants must submit the following:

  1.  A copy of the conservation easement as recorded in their county’s official records,

  2.  A baseline documentation report (as described on the application form)

  3.  A management plan that also identifies who will manage the land

  4.  An explanation showing which clearly delineated state conservation policy(ies) is (are) fulfilled by the easement and how the easement yields a significant public benefit. 

The application materials will be provided to the Council in electronic format to reduce the significant amount of paper that would be needed to provide paper copies.

 (2) The Division of State Lands interprets the intent language in the Florida Forever Act (Chapter 259, F.S.) as summarizing a clearly delineated state conservation policy. Staff proposes to use both the Florida Forever measures from s. 259.105(4) and those specifically stated in HB 7157 as representing the relevant criteria to be weighed in determining the fulfillment of that policy. Therefore, to meet the test that a conservation easement under 40 acres in size fulfills a clearly delineated state conservation policy, the property as described in the baseline documentation report and as managed in accordance with the management plan, must meet at least one of the following requirements. 

  1. Contains a natural sinkhole or spring;

  2. Contains a unique geological feature;

  3. Located within a significant strategic habitat conservation area;

  4. Provides nursery habitat for marine and estuarine species;

  5. Provides for protection or restoration of fragile coastal areas;

  6. Provides habitat for endangered or threatened species;

  7. Provides habitat for imperiled species;

  8. Contributes to a significant landscape, landscape linkage or conservation corridor;

  9. Contains an underrepresented native ecosystem;

  10. Protects natural floodplain functions;

  11. Protects surface waters of the state;

  12. Protects fragile coastal resources;

  13. Protects functional wetlands;

  14. Protects critically eroding beaches;

  15. Provides groundwater recharge critical to springs, sinks, aquifers or other natural systems;

  16. Provides retention of natural open space within densely built-up areas or urban service areas.

  17. Other state conservation policy existing in Florida Statutes or Florida Administrative Code

After determining that the property meets a clearly delineated state conservation policy, ARC must determine that the property as described in the baseline documentation report and as managed in accordance with the management plan yields a significant public benefit. 

If the property in question is adjacent to or surrounded by other lands that are permanently protected for conservation purposes, enhanced ability to protect and manage the natural resources of the existing conservation lands may be considered when determining whether a property yields a significant public benefit.

Application to ARC

Management Plan Guide

ARC Meeting Calendar

Criteria for inclusion on the List of Nonprofit Entities Qualified to Enforce Conservation Easements

Because it is normally the easement grantee, or holder of the conservation easement, who is responsible for enforcing the provisions of an easement, the Division of State Lands interprets this provision to refer to nonprofit entities whose purpose is the conservation of land and who either hold conservation easements or plan to do so in the future. The list will be posted for the public on the State Lands website, and the organization may be contacted by landowners seeking an organization to which they could donate an easement to take advantage of the property tax exemption. Division of State Lands staff will be responsible for maintaining the list using the criteria approved by the Council.

To qualify for inclusion on this list, a nonprofit must be:

  1. Organized for charitable and educational purposes within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code for the purposes of protecting natural, scenic, or open space values of real property, assuring its availability for agricultural, forest, recreational, or open space use, or protecting natural resources. 

  2. In good standing with the IRS, the state in which it is organized and the state of Florida.

To demonstrate that nonprofits are qualified for inclusion on the list, they must initially submit to the Council a copy of the following:

  1.       Their most recent IRS Form 990;

  2.       A copy of corporate documentation (articles of incorporation, bylaws) indicating the purpose of their existence

  3.       A certificate of good standing from the Florida Secretary of State, and

  4.       A certificate of good standing from their state of organization if not Florida.

To remain on the list, nonprofits must, on an annual basis, submit the following:

  1.       Their most recent IRS Form 990:

  2.       Either a resolution from their governing body that their corporate documentation is unchanged or, if it has changed, an amended corporate documentation;

  3.       A current certificate of good standing from the Florida Secretary of State, and

  4.       A current certificate of good standing from its state of organization.

It is important to note the following:

  1.       Inclusion on the list does not create any obligation to agree to a particular donation of a conservation easement.

  2.       Inclusion on the list does not create any obligation by the Acquisition and Restoration Council to find that an easement held by a nonprofit fulfills a clearly delineated state conservation policy and yields a significant public benefit.

  3.       Donation of a conservation easement to an entity on the list does not assure that the donation will qualify as a charitable donation under the Internal Revenue Code or assure that the donation will qualify for an ad valorem tax exemption or reduction. Interested parties are urged to consult with their tax advisors about those issues.

List of Nonprofits

DSL Guidelines on Conservation Easement Donations to the State of Florida: The Division of State Lands will not accept donations of conservation easements unless (1) they fall within the boundaries of an existing Florida Forever project, (2) the parcel proposed for donation is large enough to provide adequate protection to its natural and/or cultural resources, (3) the resources on the site do not require active management that could best be accomplished through fee-simple ownership and (4) the designated manager of that Florida Forever project or the Division’s conservation easement monitoring team indicate a willingness to assume monitoring of the easement. A donation to the State of Florida may not in and of itself qualify as a charitable donation under the Internal Revenue Code or assure that the donation will qualify for the ad valorem tax deduction. Persons interested in making a donation to the State of Florida are urged to consult their tax advisors concerning these issues.


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