TUTORIAL: Economic Development Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) - Southern Maryland Headline News

TUTORIAL: Economic Development Transferable Development Rights (TDRs)


By Bob Schaller and Denis Canavan

LEONARDTOWN, Md. - On July 24, 2007 a new zoning text amendment affecting Transferable Development Rights, more commonly known as "TDRs," went into effect. The TDR program has actually been around for several years, but participation by landowners and developers was not sufficient to achieve the preservation and growth goals established by the County. The TDR program needed improvement to increase participation.

This program is one of several important measures of a broader, rural-land preservation effort. In the coming months, more information will be shared about TDRs in particular and rural preservation in general. One of the County's major initiatives is to maintain our rural heritage while facilitating needed development in a growing community. This is a delicate balancing act.

Why are TDRs important? Land is required for development--residential or otherwise. Most land in the County is in the Rural Preservation District (RPD). The traditional use of much of this land is farming. As the economy has shifted away from farming, there is a need to protect this land from more intensive development. To accommodate growth there is also a need for new housing, shopping, etc., which is generally designated in other parts of the County. Under zoning regulations, landowners also own the "right" to develop their property based on the amount of property owned. TDRs allow a landowner to sell (or transfer) these rights to someone else who needs them elsewhere for development allowed by zoning. This transfer is done in the open market.

Note that the "right" to develop is only what's transferred. Ownership of the land itself does not change.

What is a TDR? TDRs are a mechanism permitting owners of rural land to separate the development rights of their property from the property itself and sell them for use elsewhere. Developers who purchase these development rights may then develop areas deemed appropriate for growth at densities higher than otherwise permitted. Once the development rights of a property are sold the land will be permanently restricted from further residential development and preserved as open space, farmland or woodland.

Where can TDRs be created? TDRs can be created in the RPD or from any non-conforming lot of record in the RPD. The number of TDRs on a piece of land is determined by the total acreage of property divided by 5 and then subtracting the number of dwellings (development rights already used). The remainder is the number of TDRs available. For example, say a farmer has a 95 acre parcel with 2 dwelling units (homes). This landowner would have 17 TDRs available (95 divided by 5 = 19, subtract 2 dwellings).

What can be done with TDRs? TDRs can be used to create additional residential density in the RPD, Development Districts, or increase the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for commercial zones. For example, the current expansion of Wal-Mart became possible through the purchase of TDRs. Depending upon the amount of land on a site and the number of dwelling units desired, a person may use their own TDRs or purchase additional TDRs. Each property is unique and a determination of your situation will need to be analyzed by the Department of Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM).

To learn more about the TDR program or other land preservation measures, please contact LUGM at (301) 475-4200 ext. 1500 or the Agriculture Division of the Department of Economic and Community Development at (301) 475-4200 ext. 1402, or www.stmarysmd.com.

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