County Comment: Transfer of Development Rights Report

County Comment
Transfer of Development Rights Report
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard a report on Transfer of Development Rights in its regular meeting on February 19th.
Land Preservation Planner Eric Seifarth, and consultants Tyson Smith and James Nicholas of White & Smith, LLC explained that Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs have been used to preserve agricultural land and historic landmarks, to achieve efficient, concentrated growth patterns, to protect sensitive natural environments, to protect water quality, or to provide a convenience to property owners.
When TDRs are used to protect a resource, the resource area is officially described by maps or words and this becomes a "sending area" where development rights may be transferred to another property in a designated "receiving area." The easements recorded in the sending area, when rights are transferred, serve to permanently protect the resource from development and to provide equity to landowners.
Discussion topics included: How many potential TDRs exist in the County; How Much is a TDR in the County worth; Where will the TDRs be transferred; What would be needed to Make TDRs work in Washington County; How are TDRs transferred; and How is a TDR program Implemented?
Currently there are 14,222 development rights plus 5,994 "exempt" lots in the County. TDR Valuation will depend on the Market deciding the price, but an estimation of range is possible with the median value at $10,032.
Defining of Receiving Areas looked at demand being sufficient to absorb as many of the 14,222 TDRs as possible and restriction of higher densities to appropriate areas. Receiving area Alternatives discussed included placement in the Unincorporated Urban Growth Areas (UGAs), using existing densities and utilizing a Roll Back of a 1/4 mile fringe outside UGAs or 1/4 mile fringe outside certain Rural Villages.
TDR Program Components would include: Designation of Receiving Areas, providing for an Early Entry Bonus, Reduction of TDR "Competition", Exemption of Lots not TDR-Eligible, Exemption of Lots not allowed in Receiving Area, defining Undevelopable Lands not TDR-Eligible, Upzoning or density increase restriction in Receiving Areas, Monitoring Purchase of Development Rights (PDRs) Programs, and Consideration of Non-Residential TDRs.
In summary the consultants said that TDRs are "economically feasible", but demand for higher densities does not currently exist. Therefore Receiving Areas must be designated and Density Bonuses adopted, and the TDR program should be regarded as both a short-term and long- term planning tool. Next Steps in the process would be to Review the Comprehensive Plan for needed amendments, if any, prepare a TDR Ordinance, and development of an Administrative Manual and Forms.
One of the barriers to such a program is the limitation on water and sewer allocations in the largest UGA, around Hagerstown, and effects of other environmental programs on growth densities. Current restrictions on resources mean that no more than 1.6 dwelling units can be built per acre.
Balance of environmental constraints with planning constraints was seen as key in establishing TDRs in Washington County.