Friday, November 9, 2012
Jess R. Phelps (Historic New England), Preserving Preservation Easements?: Preservation Easements in an Uncertain Regulatory Future, 91 Neb. L. Rev. 121 (2012):
While federal tax deductions are an important tool for organizations operating easement programs, recent IRS enforcement activity has called the future of this incentive into question--at least as currently constituted. Even if these incentives continue, the presence of continued regulatory uncertainty will make federally subsidized easements less viable unless enforcement activity decreases or easement-holding organizations begin to change how they protect privately-owned homes. However, these challenges provide easement-holding organizations a chance to step back and evaluate their accomplishments of the past thirty years. Many significant structures have been protected, but preservation easements lag far behind in numbers, impact, and public awareness when compared to land conservation efforts. The public has yet to fully “buy in” to the concept of preservation easements and are suspicious of efforts to provide funds to protect private residences.
For this perception to change, easement-holding organizations need to fundamentally re-evaluate the role they play within the preservation movement and determine whether a larger role is possible. There are a variety of ways that easement-holding organizations can shift their thinking and practices to expand the benefit provided through their programs. Similarly, there are clear alternatives to securing the preservation of significant historic resources via reliance on the federal tax incentives. In the end, the efforts of easement-holding organizations to respond to these challenges and reimagine the possibilities of preservation easements will go a long way toward fulfilling SPNEA's original vision of obtaining control of the most significant historic properties and “let[ting] them to tenants under wise restrictions.” Perhaps more importantly, these efforts can also expand upon this vision to protect the underlying stories and preserve a more meaningful spectrum of our collective architectural heritage.