Wake County acquires land for open space directly from landowners and in partnership with other agencies. Different possibilities for land transactions include donation, fee simple purchase and easements. The County also partners with municipalities to help with their greenway projects to help connect corridors.
How does the County acquire land?
Wake County acquires land for open space in a reverse auction style process referred to as a Solicitation of Interest. The program is voluntary and designed to inject competition into the process so that Wake County taxpayers get the best deal possible.
The process starts with a GIS-based model developed by County staff to score all 300,000+ parcels of land in Wake County on factors such as acreage, water quality benefits, connectivity, biodiversity, etc. Staff review the top scoring parcels to validate the model results.
Staff send a letter to owners of the top scoring parcels explaining the program and asking whether they would consider selling all or part of their property. All owners respond by the same deadline giving the County information about potential options. Since the offers always add up to more than the County has funding to buy, competitive offers from landowners are critical.
Local non-governmental organizations, municipalities and state/federal agencies are eligible to participate in the Solicitation of Interest process if they can present partnership opportunities for open space properties that score highly in our evaluation process. A Request for Proposals is provided for interested partners with the same deadline as private landowners.
A committee of County staff evaluates the offers and prepares a slate of recommended acquisitions. The staff recommendation is presented to the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee for input and then presented to the Board of Commissioners. With Board of Commissioners concurrence, staff enter final negotiations with each landowner. If the negotiation is successful, the Board of Commissioners gives final approval to the purchase, which triggers a series of legal and financial transactions that include signing a legal agreement and exchanging funds. After all necessary transactions are completed, the property officially becomes a part of the County's Open Space System.
What are the types of land acquisitions?
Owners may choose to donate property, offer property as a fee simple purchase, or place a conservation easement on the property.
Some landowners donate land for the opportunity to provide a conservation legacy. Donations can be like fee simple purchases or conservation easements described below.
Fee Simple Purchases
For some landowners, selling the land outright makes the most sense. This is a fee simple purchase – the seller conveys all rights to the property and the buyer becomes the new owner.
The Open Space Program also works with landowners who are interested in placing an easement on their land, which transfers some property rights from the landowner to the entity holding the easement. Easement conditions are determined on a case-by-case basis but typically will restrict land development, tree and vegetation removal, natural slope alteration, etc. The easement may also include provisions allowing the holder of the easement to build trails if public access is desired and agreed upon. Wake County's Open Space Program works with landowners to place two types of conservation easements on land: conservation greenway easements and agricultural conservation easements.
Agricultural conservation easements help offset the burden farmers face in a rapidly urbanizing county. To address the loss of working lands in the county, Wake County's Open Space Program partners with local agricultural organizations to help willing landowners place agricultural easements on valuable farmland. These easements are purchased with a combination of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program funds and the County's Open Space bond monies.
Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District conducts annual Keeping the Farm Workshops for farm operators and forest landowners interested in exploring options for keeping their farmland in the family.
Important things to remember about conservation easements:
- Easements are permanent. They cannot be abandoned or changed unless both parties agree. Easements carry with the land, which means if you sell the property or it is passed on to your heirs, the new owner(s) are also bound by the restrictions.
- You still own the land underneath the easement. You are just giving up the rights to do certain things with the land.
- There are significant tax advantages that accrue to you as the grantor of an easement. Any land under easement gets taxed at a reduced rate, which lowers your tax bill. But, to take advantage of these tax savings, you must grant the easement to a governmental agency or nonprofit land trust.
- Easements can either be donated to a grantee or sold. If you decide to sell an easement to a grantee, a licensed appraiser will calculate the value of the easement before negotiations commence.
How does the County help municipalities on their greenway connections?
Staff send out a Request for Proposals to each municipality for potential partners for connecting greenway projects in priority corridors. Municipalities submit greenway project proposals by the established RFP deadline.
A committee of County staff evaluates the proposals and prepares a slate of recommended partnerships. The staff recommendation is presented to the Open Space and Parks Advisory Committee for input and then presented to the Board of Commissioners. With Board of Commissioners concurrence, staff enter final negotiations with each partner. If the negotiation is successful, the Board of Commissioners gives final approval, which triggers a series of legal and financial transactions.