Woodford County

Woodford hopes to start program for purchase of development rights

Hay bales in a Woodford County field near Versailles in July 2016.
Hay bales in a Woodford County field near Versailles in July 2016. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

The Woodford County Rural Land Board is gauging public interest in a program for purchase of development rights similar to Fayette County’s, except the Woodford program would be privately funded.

The Rural Land Board, created by county ordinance in 2009, hopes to receive a grant from an unidentified private foundation, said Lori Garkovich, secretary of the land board. The foundation wants to see the level of interest in the easement program before it commits to the grant.

Meetings were held Monday and Tuesday in Versailles to provide information to landowners who might be interested.

If the grant is approved and easements are purchased, they would be held and monitored by the Bluegrass Land Conservancy. The conservancy has the staff and resources that the Rural Land Board doesn’t, and by working together the two hope to preserve more land.

If private foundation money is obtained, that money could be used to match federal dollars from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Ashley Greathouse of the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

This is Woodford County’s first attempt at a purchase of development rights program, which protects farmland from future development. Fayette County’s publicly funded program was created in 2000 and so far has nearly 29,000 acres in conservation easements.

A conservation easement is a land-preservation agreement entered into voluntarily by the owner of a working farm or natural area. The agreement restricts or prevents the development of the land for purposes other than agricultural production or as a natural area.

A landowner could still build a tenant house or erect a new barn on property within the easement. “As long as that change is in the context of furthering the use of the land, then it’s acceptable,” Garkovich said.

“At the time you do the conservation easement, we need to understand how many future residences you’d like to build on your property because that does need to be specifically included in the easement,” Greathouse said.

Landowners seeking purchase of easements would need to have their acreage appraised and evaluated according to a scoring process outlined in the Woodford ordinance.

In the meantime, the Land Board and the conservancy are still accepting donated easements. The most successful conservation easement programs in the country offer both purchase of easements and landowner-donated easements, Greathouse said.

“Donations are more financially lucrative for certain people than purchases” because of available tax benefits, such as charitable contribution or reduced estate taxes, Greathouse said.

“People should definitely speak to their accountant about which option is best. Because it very well could be that if you are a high-income landowner that the tax benefits (of a donation) will benefit you more than a purchase, and that opens up more dollars for a person who really can’t do a donation.”

Bluegrass Land Conservancy already has 5,706 acres in about 30 donated conservation easements in Woodford County. The easements are distributed throughout Woodford and are not just in the northern half where horse farms dominate the landscape.

Woodford landowners who are interested in learning more about the purchase or donation of conservation easements should call Garkovich at (859) 519-0889.