Five farmland properties west of Pine Lake in Chenequa, that
had once been part of a larger property, are united once
again - in purpose only - by the Tall Pines Conservancy,
which placed them into conservation easements that prevent
TOWN OF OCONOMOWOC - Farming is a career where land stewardship
has long been associated with success. Though individual seasons
are full of their own unique trials, tribulations and successes,
a cautious eye must always be trained upon what the future could
vein, some owners of farmland in Waukesha County look beyond the
few seasons that follow the current one - and attempt to ensure
that their land remains as it is forever. Using conservation
easements, the Tall Pines Conservancy in Nashotah helps farmers
to etch their plans into existence.
|“Our interest is
primarily to preserve farmland, water resources, larger
tracts of land, those facing development pressures and
those in wildlife corridors. Active farms near lakes and
streams are ideal.”
In the Town of Oconomowoc, farmers and other community members
have communicated the importance of the community at large’s
rural character, requesting that all of the town’s
forward-thinking plans keep agriculture at the forefront.
Pines Conservancy was started in 1999 as the Chenequa Land
Conservancy, with the goal of placing farmlands west of Pine
Lake into conservation easements.
conservation easement, explains executive director Susan
Buchanan, is a tool to preserve land in perpetuity, never
allowing it to be developed. It is a legally binding agreement
that is forever attached to a property, regardless of ownership
land into such an easement, Tall Pines is also responsible for
monitoring lands in those easements to ensure that they are
abiding by the terms outlined in the documents.
The Kieckhefer Family Farm in
Hartland has been placed into a conservation easement,
meaning it can’t be developed and will maintain its rural
character. The Tall Pines Conservancy has 15 properties in
conservation easements and two it owns outright, for a total
of 1,000 acres.
Josh Perttunen/Enterprise Staff
The difference between the value of the land before the easement
and after the easement is determined and counted as a donation
toward the conservancy and can be written off as a charitable
tax donation. Taxes on the properties also cease.
about more than the tax donation and tax break, Buchanan said.
projects take a long time,” she noted. “These lands are dear to
people’s hearts and you have to make sure everyone in the family
Land Conservancy ultimately became the Tall Pines Conservancy in
2005, when it expanded its range to the northwestern portion of
Waukesha County. The organization now has 1,000 acres in
easements, counting 15 conservation easements and two properties
that it owns outright.
that property owners attempt to put into easements are
to live up to conservation values,” Buchanan said. “Our interest
is primarily to preserve farmland, water resources, larger
tracts of land, those facing development pressures and those in
wildlife corridors. Active farms near lakes and streams are
In the Town
of Oconomowoc, the original Koepke farm on Highway K is an
example of a farm that fit much of the criteria.
“It is right
up against the city of Oconomowoc,” Buchanan said, “and was
facing development pressure. It could have easily been developed
into homes had it not been put into an easement.”
examples dot the county.
Fiscal impact minimal
lands in the conservancy do come off of the tax rolls, Town of
Oconomowoc Planner and Administrator Jeffrey Herrmann said that
there is a trade-off.
were not that large of a tax base to begin with,” he noted.
“Remaining as farmland, they do not incur much cost for
farmland keeps the rural character that drives up the price of
In the Town
of Oconomowoc, there is an effort to preserve agricultural lands
using the agricultural preservation zoning classification, which
ensures that such plots remain at least 35 acres in size.
the land use plan, 38.4 percent of the Town of Oconomowoc, or
7,778 acres, is designated as prime agricultural land. This is
4,374 acres more than was designated for urban residential
zoning can always be subject to change, Herrmann said inquiries
into development have been met by explaining the rules governing
agricultural preservation zones.
conversation ends there for most developers, Herrmann said the
stringency of what’s in place has been tested by individual
property owners. The 40-acre Cy Peterson property on North Pole
Lane was permitted to have a 2.8-acre chunk carved out for a
was carefully considered by the Town Board and Plan Commission,
Herrmann said, before rezoning that land as suburban estate. He
added that the circumstances were so unique in that Peterson had
been led by earlier planners to believe he could break apart the
acreage and the 35-acre minimum was still being met.
farmers are leery of the precedent it sets, and that developers
could also find wiggle room.
to be a mantra among planners that open space is vacant space,”
said John Koepke of Koepke Family Farms in the Town of
Oconomowoc. “But, that open space is far from vacant. It might
be open and it might be pretty, but it is also providing food,
fiber for clothing, fuel and recreational opportunities.”
serves on the Town Board.
“This is one
of the most desirable places in Wisconsin. People want to live
here,” Koepke said. “We’re that popular of a place for what we
are, not what we could be turned into...
this is Lake Country,” Koepke said. “You have to have some
also expressed concern.
can change because of political situations,” she said. “Land
placed into conservation easements will be preserved forever.”