By BOB RIGGS
CHARLESTOWN, Ind. — Ever since the official bidding began Oct. 23 for a Clark County family farm, one question had been on the minds of local landowners, real estate developers, investors and other interested parties.
They all wanted to know how the attachment of legal restrictions on the future development of a farm would affect its sale value.
The property in question was a 195-acre farm that had belonged to one local family for nearly 200 years. Louis Spriesterbach, the owner and last of the line, deeded his farm upon death to a nonprofit land trust to oversee limits to any future development. He also wanted the farm to be used to educate youth and others about farming.
The real estate auction officially ended around 7 p.m. on Dec. 4, when the new question on people’s minds became “Who was the buyer?” It sold for $755,000, an average of approximately $3,900 an acre. There were two commercial tracts sold in the auction, too; this additional $230,000 brought total proceeds to nearly $1 million.
The farm tract buyer was Dan Cristiani, a local farmer and businessman who already owned 65 acres in the area. Cristiani plans to grow corn and soybeans for a while before changing to alfalfa and moving some cattle on to the land.
“It is close to where I live,” he said, “and maybe one day I can build a house right in the middle of it.”
Board members of the George Rogers Clark Land Trust, created by the nonprofit Spriesterbach Farm Corp. and headed by a second cousin of Louis Spriesterbach, decided the best way to meet the late owner’s final wish was to write a conservation easement restriction into the deed.
Mark Thornburg, director of Legal Affairs for Indiana Farm Bureau, is also a board member of the Spriesterbach Farm Corp. He said easements to conserve the current natural character of a property are rare in Indiana but they have been used more frequently in Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois.
He explained how conservation easements restricting residential development usually work. People often move to the country or just outside the city because they desire a rural environment that is close to the conveniences of a city; however, when a developer wants to build next door they become unhappy.
Thornburg said sometimes they will pay money to neighboring farmers to restrict future development. “People will say, ‘Okay, Mr. Farmer, I don’t want you to subdivide your land or sell to a developer,’” he explained.
That is much to ask of a farmer, he said. Restrictions can greatly affect the value of the land and the owner’s own use of it. Therefore, homeowners will offer to pay money to a farmer to put limits in his deed.
Thornburg said some states have figured a way to use government funding for easements. Also, there was a farm and ranchland protection program in the farm bill that has, in the past, provided some money.
“Through that program people may be able to get funding to help compensate the farmer for an easement,” he added. “The problem with that particular program is that the homeowners have to come up with 25 percent of the value of the easement in real dollars.”
Robert Schickel, a Farm Bureau director and officer of the trust, said it is difficult to say what effect the conservation easement had on this sale. However, Schickel added, “I am pleased with the sale price, which is slightly higher than some recent sales have brought.”