More on conservation easements; land swap opponents announce meeting


A view of Strawberry Fields looking west-northwest. - COURTESY MIKE DORSEY
  • Courtesy Mike Dorsey
  • A view of Strawberry Fields looking west-northwest.
As we report in this week's edition of the Independent ("Easing the transition"), a conservation easement is planned for the Strawberry Fields open space the city proposes to trade to The Broadmoor for various tracts of land. Those include portions of the Barr Trail, Manitou Incline, a residential parcel adjacent to Bear Creek Regional Park, 208 acres of rugged forested property around Mount Muscoco and Chamberlain Trail easements.

Easements have proven controversial at times in the past, and led to reforms on what's eligible for tax breaks and what's not. (Let us emphasize that the tax credit issue appears to be moot in the case of Strawberry Fields, because The Broadmoor has stated it will not seek the tax benefit available through a conservation easement. The resort does, however, plan to claim a tax benefit for "donating" the difference between the value of its property and the city property, which totals roughly $1.45 million.)

After the Indy's press time, we heard from the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies about tax credits, so we're passing along that information there in a Q&A format:

Does the state have data on how many easements there are in Colorado and how many acres are covered by them?

Since 2011, landowners who donated a conservation easement must apply to the Division of Real Estate for a tax credit certificate in order to claim a conservation easement tax credit with the Colorado Department of Revenue. The total dollar amount of conservation easement tax credit certificates is limited or capped each year. Below is a summary of tax credit cap applications and certificates.
• Annual Conservation Easement Tax Credit Cap = $22 million
• Received 78 “2011” tax credit cap applications
• 78 certificates issued against the 2011 cap
• 78 certificates protected 38,816 acres
• Issued 78 certificates in the total amount of $22 million

• Annual Conservation Easement Tax Credit Cap = $22 million
• Received 85 “2012” tax credit cap applications
• 85 certificates issued against the 2012 cap
• 85 certificates protected 72,661 acres
• Issued 85 certificates in the total amount of $22 million

• Annual Conservation Easement Tax Credit Cap = $34 million
• Received 118 “2013” tax credit cap applications
• 118 certificates issued against the 2013 cap
• 118 certificates protected 116,101 acres
• Issued 118 certificates in the total amount of $28,240,269
• $5,759,731 still available for tax credit certificates to be issued.

Is there an estimate of how much this program costs the state annually in lost taxes, or tax credits?

​Below are the tax credit calculation rules, which come from Department of Revenue statutes.

• Conservation Easements Donated in 2000-2002: 100% of the first $100,000 donation value
• Conservation Easements Donated in 2003-2006: 100% of the first $100,000 donation value; 40% of the remainder, up to $260,000 cap
• Conservation Easements Donated in 2007-2014: 50% of the donation value; $375,000 cap per transaction.
• Conservation Easements Donated in 2015 or later: 75% of the first $100,000 of the donation value and then 50% of the remaining donation value; $1,500,000 cap per transaction.

Are there rules on how much of the value of the land can be used as a tax benefit?

Currently, the tax credit cap for gross conservation easements is $45 million annually. 

What was done following the investigations of 2007 into possible abuses of the conservation easement program?

In 2013, Senate Bill 13-221 was enacted to ensure that conservation easement donations were sufficiently examined for compliance before the Division of Real Estate issued the tax credit certificate. Senate Bill 13-221 went into effect on January 1, 2014. As a result, a conservation easement tax credit certificate application and review process was established and duties and responsibilities were aligned with the appropriate decision makers.

Save Cheyenne, a group formed to oppose the land swap is urging attendance at a meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

While past public meetings on the issue always began with presentations by those in favor of the exchange, this meeting will focus exclusively on arguments against it. From the meeting announcement:
The media is encouraged to attend the People's Town Hall tomorrow. For the first time in this 5 month saga, the People will have the ability to present their case, without time limits. 7 Presenters are scheduled to address everything from the appraisals, financial flaws, legality as well as a public vision for the land. This will be the People's first and last chance to present their analyses, uninterrupted. We believe this meeting will very much have an impact on the future of 1/3 of iconic Cheyenne Cañon Park — home to wildlife for over a century and generations of hikers, bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Council, the Broadmoor and the Parks Department have all been invited. So far, 5 Council Members have RSVPd yes.

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