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Leaving a Legacy through Conservation Easement

Jack McCoy’s property was purchased by his father in 1959. Jack's father was deer hunting that year, got lost and stumbled upon the old farm property. The property became a family retreat and Jack, his sister, and their friends used the property often. Jack said, "We loved the woods, loved the outdoors." To protect the land, Jack and his sister decided they wanted to conserve the property, placing the entire 64 acres under a conservation easement.

Jack McCoy’s property was purchased by his father in 1959. Jack was a high school sophomore at the time and the family lived in Lititz, PA. Jack's father was deer hunting that year, got lost and stumbled upon the old farm property. His father had wanted to buy a wooded property for hunting and recreation so his father contacted the owner and asked if the property was for sale. The owners agreed to sell and the family purchased the property. The property was farmland during the first half of the twentieth century and the house was a shambles with no electricity and no well. Over the next few years the family torn down and rebuilt most of the house, tore down the old barn and relocated a new barn and garage, planted a grove of Christmas trees in 1960, and added a large pond in 1964. The property became a family retreat and Jack, his sister, and their friends used the property often. Jack said, “We loved the woods, loved the outdoors”. His parents retired from Lititz in 1972 and moved into the house permanently. The property continued to be the center of family recreation through Jack's college years and when he married and raised three children. 

The property is 64 acres with about 10 acres of land that could still be considered agricultural land. Jack planted about 4,000 more Christmas trees in 1987 and ran a small commercial operation for a few years. That eventually proved to be not worth the effort financially and the conifer groves were allowed to revert to a hardwood forest of yellow poplar, black locust, and maple.

Jack and his sister assumed ownership of the property in 1987 when their parents moved into a retirement community in Lititz. Not long afterward Jack and his sister decided they wanted to conserve the property. Jack said,” We wanted to preserve it (the land) and not ever let it get into development; it’s the passion for open space”. They made a commitment to place the entire 64 acre property under a conservation easement. Jack said the largest living chestnut oak in Pennsylvania is located on the property and is specifically protected in the conservation easement.

Jack said the process of placing the property under easement was simple and easy. Jack and his sister had an attorney draw up the documents and set up the easement with the conservancy. Appraisals were done to determine the value of the property before and after the easement, though the difference was not great. The township zoning for this part of the county restricts housing developments to one dwelling on 20 acres of land. Jack and his sister shared the federal income tax savings. Despite the restrictive township zoning Jack felt the conservation easement was an important method of preserving the property because zoning can be changed at any time by local politics or a variance sought by a future owner and the easement protected the land permanently.

Jack and his sister are now in the process of turning the property over to the next generation. They will likely change the deed ownership to a limited liability company in which all family members own shares. This will allow the older generation to gift their shares to the next generation of owners over time to avoid the cost of inheritance taxes. The property remains intact as a unit under the easement and can be easily passed on to subsequent generations.

Jack said he would not change any aspect of the conservation easement. The restrictions and reserved rights allow one more dwelling to be built on the property, any normal farm business operations may be operated on the property, hunting in accordance with the Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations is allowed, timber harvesting with a stewardship plan written by a registered forester is allowed, and a future owner may even operate a bed-and-breakfast type of business. The main restrictions are no subdivision for development and no commercial businesses other than normal farming operations. Jack and his sister are pleased that the land that they grew to love as teenagers will remain intact and hopefully in the family for many generations to come.