The mission of the Gateway Commission is to preserve the aesthetic and ecological natural beauty of the lower Connecticut River valley for present and future generations. Specifically, Section 25-102a of the Connecticut General Statutes reports the significant finding of the Connecticut General Assembly:
"It is found that the lower Connecticut River and the towns abutting the river possess unique scenic, ecological, scientific and historic value contributing to public enjoyment, inspiration and scientific study, that it is in the public interest .......to preserve such values and to prevent deterioration of the natural and traditional riverway scene for the enjoyment of present and future generations of Connecticut citizens...." .
Further, Section 25-102g CGS states the Commission's purpose as follows:
"...The action of the Connecticut River Gateway Commission shall have the object of regulating the uses of [properties within the Gateway Conservation Zone] consistent with the purposes of this chapter and promoting the protection and development [of the Conservation Zone]...........by means of classification of zoning districts according to types of land usage permitted therein, land coverage, frontage, setback, design and building height and by regulating the cutting of timber, burning of undergrowth, removing soil or other earth materials and dumping or storing refuse in a manner that would detract from the natural or traditional riverway scene, provided such action shall not discourage constructive development and uses of such property...".
The Gateway Commission's acquisition program has received national attention for its innovative approach to preserving scenic areas along the river. The legislature authorized the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to purchase scenic easements and development rights on as much as 2,500 acres of land within the conservation zone. This does not involve the outright purchase of any property. Instead, the state will buy from the owners of scenically important lands their rights to develop or alter their properties in ways that might tend to spoil the beauty of the traditional valley scene. The property itself will remain privately owned so that it can still be bought, sold, used and developed within these limitations. For example, the owner of a house on 20 wooded acres beside the river might sell to the state his/her rights to subdivide that property or to alter or develop it in a way beyond customary maintenance of his house and garden. He would still have the exclusive right to walk and hunt and fish on his own land and he would not have opened his land to public use except as a landscape to be seen from the distance. This is the most restrictive case of site purchase of complete development rights to a piece of property. In other cases, only some of the development rights might be purchased, such as the right to divide a property into lots of less than 20 acres or the right to build any new structure on a hillside that is visible from the river.
In order to accomplish this mission, the Gateway Commission protects properties within the Conservation Zone in two primary ways: (1) the acquisition of land, including easements, on their own or with other conservation partners, and (2) through the adoption of minimum protective standards that are adopted into local zoning regulations by Gateway member towns. The orginal standards, adopted in 1973, have been updated several times with the most recent update occurring in 2004. Those zoning standards include those governing land coverage, frontage and setback from the river and its associated wetlands, design and building height and the regulation of timber cutting and burning of undergrowth. Another important consideration includes the retention of natural, visually-buffering vegetation and the planting of new, non-invasive vegetation.
Simply stated, the primary purpose of the Gateway Commission and their standards is to manage development within the boundary of the Conservation Zone in a way that minimizes the visual and ecological impacts of that development on the the "natural and traditional riverway scene".
Many owners of land along the river share the motivation of the legislation that created the Conservation Zone. They enjoy the beauty of the Connecticut River valley and have a personal interest in seeing it preserved. They may therefore wish to donate scenic easements or development rights to the state and may find that it is financially advantageous to do so because of possible tax deductions resulting from such a gift. Such donations are not included in the 2,500 acre limitation on lands in which the state may purchase easements, and therefore the total area to be protected will be increased. To date, the Gateway Commission has acquired easements and fee-simple property totaling more than 1,000 acres at NO cost to the state.
If you own land within the Conservation Zone and are interested in selling or donating rights to your land, you should check with your lawyer or tax adviser concerning the tax benefits and liabilities that may arise in your particular case. Some property owners find that a combination of sale and gift of an easement to the state an attractive option. By using this so-called "bargain sale" approach, it may be possible to balance any captial gain tax resulting from the sale of an easement by selling the easement to the state at less than its fair market value and treating the difference as a tax deductible charitable donation. Reductions in local property taxes and in inheritance taxes may also result from conveying an easement to the state.
If you or anyone you know has interest in the donation of easements or development rights, contact the Gateway Commission through their staff at (860) 388-3497 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.