Georgia changing land conservation rules

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ATLANTA -- Landowners who want tax breaks for preserving their property will have tougher rules to follow if the Natural Resources Board votes next month to approve proposed rules changes.

The Department of Natural Resources holds a public hearing today in the boardroom to get input on the proposal. It is based on legislation passed at part of the sweeping tax reform signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal in May.

Since 2006, the program has allowed landowners to donate the development rights of their acreage to the government or a non-profit trust and receive a tax credit worth 25 percent of the property’s value up to $500,000. The old maximum credit was $1 million.

That tax credit can be sold to generate cash for the donor, making it one of the most attractive in the country, according to the Washington-based Land Trust Alliance.

One of the changes though is to limit the number of times the tax credits can be sold to once. Another change requires any non-profit recipient to get state certification.

The new rules would also limit buildings that can be constructed on the property and require larger buffers of raw land around streams.

The department staff had drafted an earlier version of the rules to administer the changes in the law, but it received so many suggestions at a July public hearing that it made some major changes. Today’s hearing is the result of those recommendations.

To qualify, the land must fit two of the five areas of protection: water, wildlife, recreation (but not golf courses), agricultural or farmland, and historic sites. The current rules only require one.

Donors who give to a private group will have to pay the state a new, $5,000 fee to appraise the property and determine if it meets the criteria.

Since the program began, donors have applied for 357 parcels, roughly 80 per year, according to the department’s annual report. The state has certified 295 donations, and 86 percent were given to non-profit trusts rather than state or local government. All together, 122,000 acres have been permanently protected from development through the program.


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