TDRs Still a Viable Option for Open Space Planning
Timothy J. Bupp
Transferrable development rights, also known as TDRs, have proved in the past to be one of the most flexible land planning tools available to encourage planned growth and to help control the rate of growth in a community. In the present era of economic downturn, with an accompanying ease of new residential development pressure, TDRs continue to be a viable resource for helping a municipality attain its future growth goals.
What is a TDR? A majority of York County townships currently incorporate some form of TDR program in their ordinances. A TDR program allows landowners to separate the connection between a development right and a specific tract of ground, thereby encouraging the use of development in accord with planning. In its simplest form, a TDR program can allow a landowner to transfer a development right from areas of high agricultural value to areas of low value, thereby guiding growth away from high-value soils and allowing a municipality to keep such soils in production.
Sending and Receiving Zones. Some municipalities have gone on to define receiving zones – areas in proximity to public sewer, water, and other public services – into which TDRs must be transferred. This has the effect of guiding future growth to those areas where public streets, cable communications, amenities, and other infrastructure already exist. In turn, encouraging development in these areas has the complimentary affect of slowing growth in more remote areas where infrastructure to compliment development does not exist. Similarly, municipalities can develop sending areas where the transfer of TDRs out of the sending is allowed or encouraged, thus helping preserve the rural nature of that area.
Multiple Rights and TDR Banks. In addition, municipalities that desire to increase their guidance over future growth might encourage transfer of right by rewarding the transfer of a right from a sending zone by turning it into two or more rights in a particular receiving zone. Such multiplication of rights will further encourage the transfer of rights in accord with the municipality’s planning goals. Other municipalities have decided to participate actively in the flow of TDRs by “banking” rights, that is, purchasing rights from property owners and holding the rights for a period of time in public ownership, to control the rate at which development takes place. In some cases, a standard price for a TDR can be established and the municipality can affect the market by increasing or decreasing the price; other times, the free market is allowed to control price.
Where to Start? The current economic downturn actually offers municipalities opportunities to develop or expand their own TDR programs. Now, while the pace of economic development has been stilled by the recession and land prices have ebbed to unusual lows, municipalities should assess whether they can better accomplish their planning goals without breaking the public fisc. Many municipalities turn to entities with specialized knowledge in conservation, such as the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County, to plan, implement, and administer their TDR program, thus increasing the effectiveness of planning, while alleviating the burden on township officials.