A tailgate party pushed Bill Price
head first into the equestrian conservation movement.
lifelong equestrian whose family had assembled a 260-acre tract
Charlotte, N.C., in 1999, had an open house where
1,000 interested people came to tailgate on the land and look
at the improvements he had put in to create the Queen’s
Cup Steeplechase course and grounds. As he had expected, it
was a great
party; but he never could have imaged what would happen next.
Realtor called representing a party guest who wanted to buy
the property. The buyer’s opening bid was “in
excess of seven numbers.”
It was quick money in the
bank. Bill and Carrington have two children. Their future
would be solid and sealed -- if
the family would
give up their dream and allow this lush green landscape to
fill with parking lots, stores, roads and housing developments.
“We didn’t have to think twice,” he says. “I told
him the land wasn’t for sale. When I told him it wasn’t
about the money, he didn’t understand. He said, ‘Of
course it’s about the money. It’s always about
“I never could explain it to him.
But it made me realize that I had to do something to protect
this land, not just now,
Bill Price found his protection partner
in the Catawba Lands
Conservancy, a land conservation organization
based in Charlotte
but covering a broad area that includes
the Queen’s Cup grounds. Using the professional expertise of the
conservancy and its team of finance and real estate experts, the Prices
carved out a plan
that protects the land with a permanent conservation easement, allows
development in targeted areas, reduces property taxes, allows for generous
federal tax incentives, and provides estate tax benefits that will come
into play in
the years to come.
The Queen’s Cup Steeplechase story
is one that can serve as a template for equestrian landowners
nationwide. It powerfully
demonstrates how an equestrian
landowner can preserve farms, pastures, trails, and hunting grounds,
and also take advantage of a wide range of tax benefits.
It is the ultimate Triple Crown win – a
win for the Prices, a win for the community where open space
is fast disappearing,
and a win for future generations who will have a slice of pastoral
heaven protected and preserved.
Bill Price, a native Marylander, began
horseback riding at age four and bought his first thoroughbred
gelding at age 14. He
dreamed of becoming a trainer, but soon woke to the reality that
it wasn’t going to happen and went into the home security
Carrington, who grew up playing on her
farm, married Bill in 1982. They frequently attended horse
Maryland where they lived, and carried that interest south
after he sold the Maryland business to Sonitrol Security and
and friends invested in Sonitrol of Charlotte. Bill eventually
took over the Charlotte-based security business, and as that
business grew – and grew more successful – Bill
once again veered toward racing, purchasing several racehorses.
of them, Break Clean, won six times, including a win at Saratoga
Springs, and returned a comfortable $90,000 on Bill’s
$15,000 investment. As his involvement and interest in racing
began toying with the idea of creating a Steeplechase in Charlotte.
Carrington as his partner, Bill created the non-profit Charlotte
Steeplechase Association in 1994, leased a 285-acre
of Charlotte in the southern section of neighboring Union
County, created a 1.25-mile grassy oval track with brush jumps,
secured approvals in time to hold the first event in the
fall of 1995.
For several years, the Charlotte Steeplechase ran
on the leased property, and each year, the Prices became more
they needed a permanent home for this growing event. They
began searching for land, but it was not until just before
Steeplechase that the Prices found a prime 260-acre parcel
with rolling hills and trees.
Jim and Midge Price, who live in Ocean Ridge, Florida,
were in a position to buy the land, then lease it The Charlotte
Association for $1 a year. Work began immediately on grading
a one-and-one-sixteenth-mile course, with a hub rail, parking
spaces for elegant tailgating along that rail, terraces
for lawn boxes, a permanent stewards’ tower and a
higher infield perfect for picnicking and watching.
was magnificent – but in Bill Price’s mind,
it was not secure. His father occasionally would talk about
building lots around the perimeter of the racecourse. “It
made my stomach turn,” Bill now says. “It was
understandable; Dad being an investment banker and the
were all around us.”
On a perfect early-autumn day,
Bill invited his father to take a walk around the farm.
The sun was setting, the
turning, and he turned to his father and asked if he really
wanted to put houses in the middle of that picture. No,
said his father,
we shouldn’t do that. Bill then asked the question
that would set everything in motion: “Dad, why don’t
we put all of this under conservation easement?”
A conservation easement – also called a conservation agreement
-- is a legally binding commitment to extinguish development
rights on a parcel. Those development rights are turned over
to a “qualified” organization. This can be a land
trust or a government entity such as a Parks Department or the
U.S. Forestry Service.
Not all land qualifies; the property
has to meet a test of providing public benefit. This is not
same as providing public access;
land can remain private but qualify if it protects water or
wildlife, protects historic property, or if it provides a scenic
other “significant public benefit” pursuant to
There are more than 1,500 land trusts across
the nation that
accept conservation agreements and take on the responsibility
of monitoring the land to ensure that it remains natural
and unspoiled. While a landowner can sell or give property to
land trust, the more common practice is to maintain ownership
place a conservation easement on all or part of the land.
Jim and Midge Price continue to own the
land, but gave a conservation easement to the Catawba
Land Conservancy (CLC).
and Carrington lived on the land and wanted to leave room
for further building, they worked with the CLC to create “envelopes” of
land within the property that would be exempt from the
And finally, Jim and Midge looked at the tax credits and
benefits and decided not to place all the targeted land
right away, but rather to stretch the process – and therefore
the tax benefits – over a longer period.
people do not understand that when you put your land into
a conservation program, you have great flexibility. You
can create envelopes where you can build, or save a place
for a child to
own or live. Yes, you have restrictions, but if you go
through the process carefully, you can create a situation
The first step was for Bill to contact
the CLC; the executive director came and walked the land with
him and assured Bill that
they could work well together. Through the Conservancy, Bill
located a “qualified” appraiser to determine the
value of the conservation agreement. Landowners need a special
kind of double-sided appraisal to qualify for the tax deductions,
and land trusts typically maintain a list of appraisers who must
follow specific guidelines set by the federal government. It
is the appraiser’s job to make two judgments:
- The value
of the land with the conservation restrictions.
- The value of
the land without the conservation agreement.
The federal government and many state governments recognize
the financial sacrifice made by those who place land under conservation
easement and offer tax incentives that help to offset this potential
loss. A number of states offer state tax credits: California,
Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico,
North and South Carolina, and Virginia. For the federal government,
easement donations qualify as charitable donations. The rules
are complicated, for a full set of rules and requirements, consult
your financial advisor and contact your local land trust.
Land trusts are local organizations working
to preserve land in your community. They are familiar with
the local real estate
markets and often can pull together federal, state, or local
grants and like-minded organizations to help you preserve equestrian
land in your area. Land trusts work with a wide range of landowners – from
farm families of modest means to wealthy land investors – who
share a love of the land. The equestrian community is similarly
diverse and similarly focused on preserving land, so the two
are a comfortable fit. (To find a land trust near you, visit
the website of the Land Trust Alliance, www.lta.org.)
With the help of his CPA, Jim Price determined
that he could make good use of the tax incentives on 201 acres,
but held 59
acres out to be placed under easement at a future time.
The deal closed in December 2000, but the Prices and the CLC
kept it confidential until the newly named Queen’s Cup
Steeplechase in April of 2001. It was a special day in the life
of the Price family – and for the generations that will
Bill and Carrington are looking to the
equestrian community to be leaders in
land conservation nationwide. “Horse people understand that when you
are riding, you can go through 260 acres real fast,” Bill said. We have
done the right thing, but it isn’t enough. Horse people see that we are
running out of space to ride, but it’s much more than that.
land is gone, it’s gone, and we will leave nothing to
our children but houses, asphalt and parking lots. That’s not a legacy.
The Queen’s Cup Steeplechase land
is now worth much more than the original purchase price, and
as development pushes further
out of Charlotte, it will keep
going up. Everyone in the Price family is sleeping well.
“Not for even one moment have my parents, Carrington and
I, or our son and daughter had any regrets about placing this
land under easement,” Bill
easy. It’s lasting. And nobody can ever take it away. It was a
great deal financially, spiritually, emotionally.”
For more information
on protecting and preserving equestrian land, contact your local land
trust and visit the following Websites:
Equestrian Land Conservation
Resource -- www.elcr.org
Land Trust Alliance -- www.lta.org
American Farm Land Trust -- www.farmland.org
Catawba Lands Conservancy - www.catawbalands.org
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