Waiting list for tax credits hurts land donation, Cape Cod land trusts say
Land trusts across Cape Cod are cooperating this spring to bring a message to state legislators. They say state funding has been critical to major land protection projects, but the Legislature can do more to encourage private landowners to place their property in conservation. CAI reporter Jennette Barnes participated in a recent farm tour hosted by land trusts, and she talked about their message on Morning Edition with host Patrick Flanary.
Patrick Flanary: Local land trusts are working together this spring to raise the profile of regionally significant conservation properties. They’re also making an “ask” of state legislators. CAI reporter Jennette Barnes visited the Tony Andrews Farm in Falmouth to learn more about this effort, and she joins us now. Good morning, Jennette.
Jennette Barnes: Hi, Patrick. Good morning.
Patrick Flanary: So the Andrews Farm is still a working farm. But this event was about some big-picture conservation issues, right? Tell us more about what’s happening here.
Jennette Barnes: Sure. The land trusts are showing legislators some of the properties that benefit from state conservation money. There’s a similar walk Friday at the Cold Brook Preserve in Harwich Port. And they’re talking up some legislation that they would like to see pass. But before we get to that, it was just a great chance to meet a member of the Andrews family, and to see everything that’s happening on that property.
Patrick Flanary: And the Andrews Farm is owned by the town now, but the family is still farming it, right?
Jennette Barnes: That’s right. The town of Falmouth bought the farmland, and Jeff Andrews has a lease agreement to continue farming it. The family also runs the farmstand. And the group Farming Falmouth is involved on the property, too. They have a community garden, an orchard, and they just started a veggie plot toward the back of the farm, where they’re growing produce for the food pantry at the Falmouth Service Center. In addition to all of that, there were six house lots, called Andrews Grove, at the back of the farm. Those have been purchased by the 300 Committee Land Trust. There’s a lot going on there. So I wanted to ask one of the sons — they had seven sons — what it was like to make that decision, to sell the family land for conservation. Let’s listen here to Joe Andrews, one of the sons of Tony and Marina.
Joe Andrews: It's an emotional decision, you know? Because I think, as I said earlier, you're kind of walking around, and this is ours, right? You don't really want a lot of people here. And but, you know, for the greater good, what we did in the community. My Mom and Dad could have sold this place a number of times — we had so many offers over the years — and made multiple millions of dollars, But they would have turned in their grave if we sold this to a developer. That's what really — at the end of the day, it was just — it's ethics, it's values.
Jennette Barnes: Again, that’s Joe Andrews. His brother Jeff Andrews is the one who runs the day-to-day operations of the farm.
Patrick Flanary: So, keeping the land in agriculture was obviously important to them. Talk about how that works for landowners. Do they usually sell for a reduced price when the land is going into conservation?
Jennette Barnes: Well, in this case they were able to sell it for market value. The 300 Committee and the town of Falmouth brought together multiple funding sources, including community preservation funds, state grants, direct town funding, and private fundraising. The market value was almost $3 million — it was $2 million for the farm and $950,000 for the waterfront parcels on Pond 14 at the back of the farm. But the town did have to compete with developers, in a sense. The property did go on the open market at one point. Let’s listen to Jessica Whritenour, the executive director of the 300 Committee Land Trust, talking about that process.
Jessica Whritenour: Some of the other siblings from the Andrews family wanted to test the market. They wanted to see what other interest was out there. So it was not a situation where we were able to have them deal exclusively with us. They really wanted to test. So it went on the open market — a very nerve-racking time period. I remember, you know, when the listing came out and it was just like, you know, the stomach drops because, yes, developers were circling.
Patrick Flanary: Aha. Okay. And aside from keeping the land in farming, this property does have some significance in terms of connecting to other open spaces, right?
Jennette Barnes: That’s right. The Andrews Farm connects with other pieces of land that are part of the Coonamessett River Greenway. This is an open-space corridor that runs along the river, south from Coonamessett Pond down toward Great Pond. It has miles of trails through it already, and the 300 Committee is working on adding to it.
Patrick Flanary: You mentioned there’s another walk with legislators on Friday at the Cold Brook Preserve in Harwich Port. What is it that the conservation groups are asking for?
Jennette Barnes: Sure, yes. So it’s a few things, but number one is an increase in the amount of money the state provides each year for the Conservation Land Tax Credit. Land trusts and towns try to get landowners, when they are selling their land for conservation, to donate part of the value, so that the town or the land trust doesn’t have to pay the full value. And the state offers a tax credit of half the donation value, up to $75,000. But there’s a long waiting list to actually get that tax credit. Robb Johnson talked about this. He’s the executive director of the Massachusetts Land Trust Coalition.
Robb Johnson: That tax credit can really be an incentive that helps a family that doesn't have endless means, you know, to just make donations to get some of that back in a tax credit. The problem is that the program has been so successful — well used on Cape Cod — that there's a wait list of more than two years. And for a family that's been waiting for decades to make a move, and it's time to make a move, maybe they can't wait till 2025 or 2026.
Patrick Flanary: And what’s the fix for that — why is there a waiting list?
Jennette Barnes: Well, it’s about money. There is an annual cap on the dollar value the state will give in those tax credits. It’s a $2 million cap statewide. So what the land trusts want is for the Legislature to raise the cap to $5 million a year, so that more families can get that benefit, and it encourages land donation.
Patrick Flanary: Jennette Barnes, thanks for bringing us that story.
Jennette Barnes: Thank you, Patrick.