VHCB makes loans and grants to nonprofit organizations, municipalities and state agencies for the acquisition of land and for the purchase of conservation easements. All conservation projects are permanently protected by legal documents (conservation easements) recorded in the land records which travel with the land upon resale. The conservation easements are co-held by the applicant organization or municipality, VHCB, and, in the case of farmland conservation projects, by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.
Farmland Conservation Program
Agriculture plays a major role in shaping Vermont's economy, landscape, and rural character. The VHCB Farmland Preservation Program is focused on retaining the state’s quality agricultural land base in strong farming regions of the state. The purchase of conservation easements on farmland preserves Vermont's working landscape--the open farm fields, woodlands and farmsteads that comprise the third largest sector in the state's economy and help attract the visitors that make tourism the largest sector. Because of the Board's investment in conservation easements, some of Vermont's most productive farmland will remain undeveloped and available for farming in the future.
What is a conservation easement?
The conservation easement is the legal document recorded in the land records that travels with the land upon resale, guaranteeing the state's investment in land conservation will be maintained for future generations. Selling conservation easements enables a landowner to keep land in agricultural use and also be compensated for the potential development value of the land, recognizing the asset value of the land. The landowner retains title to the land and agrees to the terms of a conservation easement limiting future ability to subdivide and develop the land.
Impact of the Program
Since 1987, nearly 600 farms comprising 143,000 acres of agricultural land have been conserved with VHCB funds. The purchase of development rights has contributed to renewed vitality in agriculture by enabling young farmers to purchase farms at an affordable price and by helping established farmers to reduce long-term debt, to invest in infrastructure, and to make operations more profitable and efficient. At the same time that some larger dairy farms have consolidated, smaller farms are becoming stronger through diversification, by producing for specialty markets, and by minimizing costs of production. By focusing on conserving contiguous blocks of farmland in traditional farming communities, VHCB’s Farmland Preservation Program helps to ensure that farms are not isolated by residential development and communities can continue to support a healthy range of businesses that serve and rely on neighboring farms.
The Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program offers business planning and technical assistance services to Vermont farmers. The program is funded and administered by the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, with additional funding provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), USDA Rural Development and private foundations. Subject to available funding, farmers who have completed business plans with the program are eligible for grants towards capital expenses or additional technical support to implement the business plan. Read more about the Farm Viability Program.
The Farmland Conservation Application Process:
Landowners are referred to a nonprofit conservation organizaton or eligible state agency (see list below) to fill out a Preapplication for the Purchase of Development Rights on Farmland. Preapplications are submitted to VHCB by the applicant organizations, on behalf of the landowner. The Preapplications are considered by the Board's Agricultural Advisory Committee twice a year. Some portion of the Preapplications are approved by the Committee to proceed to the next step in the process: an Application for the Purchase of Development Rights on Farmland. Following approval by the Ag Advisory committee, the farmland is appraised to determine the value of the development rights--the difference between the value of the land in agricultural use and the potential market value. The cost of the appraisal is split between the landowner and the Board. The landowner and the nonprofit applicant sign a Purchase and Sales Agreement, submitted with the application, which serves as an agreement on the value of the development rights.
The Board’s evaluation of applications for the purchase of development rights is assisted by an Agricultural Advisory Committee, comprised of farmers and knowledgeable representatives of farm agencies. Farms are evaluated on the criteria of resource (soils), infrastructure, location, management, and other values. Farm owners occasionally offer bargain sales or easement donations. Some farm projects involve the protection of a natural habitat of statewide importance, or of significant historic or archeological features, or offer public access to trails or water. The applications are considered by the Board at one of several meetings throughout the year. Beginning with the preapplication, the process can take 1-2 years before a landowner is paid.
Farm owners with historic buildings are encouraged to include a “historic notice provision” in the conservation easement to promote the use of materials and methods of rehabilitation in keeping with historic preservation standards. Conservation of important natural habitats and archeological features and public access to trails or water are other qualities the Board seeks in farmland conservation projects.
For more information or to request an application to conserve your farmland, contact one of the following:
Upper Valley Land Trust: call 603-643-6626 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets:
call: 828-5435 or email: email@example.com
Vermont Land Trust: call 802 223-5234 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also contact a local nonprofit conservation organization.
Conservation of Natural Areas, Recreational Land, and Historic Properties
Vermonters have always had a special relationship with the land. Recreational land, working forest, farmland, and important natural areas comprise the state’s rural landscape and the character of these lands has long been closely tied to the activities of the people who live and work here. VHCB’s conservation program helps maintain that relationship by conserving many of the state’s most important lands and providing Vermonters access to those resources both now and in the future. Thanks to the efforts of Vermonters working in communities throughout the state, VHCB funds have helped to conserve a total of 252,700 acres of natural areas and recreational lands since 1987.
In carrying out its mission, the Board funds projects that best provide quality recreation to Vermonters, preserve public access to the state’s water and woodland resources, conserve wildlife and plant habitat, protect watershed and water quality, add value to Vermont’s travel and tourism industries, and ensure the future stewardship of the state’s natural resources. In addition to working with local and statewide nonprofit organizations on many projects, many VHCB conservation projects involve acquisition of land or easements by state agencies or towns. These properties become new state forests, parks, wildlife areas, or town recreational lands.
Public Access to Conserved Land
Land conserved with VHCB funding is managed by towns and municipalities, non-profit conservation organizations and state agencies such as the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Find a list of links to the websites of these organzations and agencies, where directions and trail maps are maintained.
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Conservation of Land or Historic Resources of Statewide Significance
Conservation projects of statewide significance (as determined by VHCB using input from the Natural Heritage Program, Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, the Division for Historic Preservation and others) are eligible for VHCB Conservation Project funding. These projects are not required to provide local matching funds and are not limited to $150,000, as are the Local Conservation Projects (see below), although leverage in the form of in-kind services or donations of conservation easements is common. Conservation projects eligible for VHCB funding include acquisition of natural areas that provide habitat for rare or endangered species, acquisition of lands to provide public access to trails or water, greenways, or acquisition of historic sites of statewide significance for public use. To apply, request an Application for Conservation Projects.
Local Conservation - Recreational or agricultural land,
natural areas and historic properties
Under the VHCB Local Conservation Grant Program, grants of up to $150,000 plus associated costs are available for the purchase of recreational lands, natural areas or historic properties. Grants of up to $215,000 plus associated costs are available for the purchase of agricultural lands. Funding for associated project costs can be used for a portion of the expenses incurred for appraisals, options, or closing costs. Projects funded under this program might include: land acquisition to provide access to water for swimming or boating, biking and hiking trails, greenways, or conservation or expansion of town parks, forests and natural areas or acquisition of important historic sites for public use. Funding is not available for the construction or rehabilitation of buildings or the construction of recreational facilities. To demonstrate local support for the projects, applicants must raise at least 33 percent of the total project costs from other sources. This match may include cash, in-kind services, and donations of land and easements that further the conservation goals of the project. All projects must demonstrate municipal support in the form of a letter of endorsement from the selectboard of the town where the project is located. For more details, see the Policy for Local Conservation Projects. To apply, request an Application for Local Conservation Projects or an Application for Local Farmland Conservation. List of VHCB Local Conservation Awards
Preservation of Outstanding Historic Buildings for Community Use
The renovation of historic buildings reinforces Vermont’s traditional settlement pattern, keeps economic and cultural activity in town centers and promotes continued community use. VHCB has assisted many Vermont communities to restore more than 50 outstanding historic buildings in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. VHCB has also funded the adaptive reuse of buildings such as vacant schools or commercial buildings converted into affordable housing. After rehabilitation is complete, the buildings are protected by a Historic Preservation Easement held by VHCB and the Preservation Trust of Vermont. To apply, request the Local Conservation application and see the Local Conservation Policy.
Conservation projects in the early stages of development are eligible for Feasibility Grants of up to $10,000 to cover the costs of appraisals, options, engineering and environmental studies, or other predevelopment costs. To apply: Request information on VHCB feasibility grants. Feasibility grants are considered on an ongoing basis by VHCB staff.
For more information, please send an email to:
call 802-828-3250, or write:
VHCB, 58 East State State Street, Montpelier, VT 05602
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