Photo by Tompkins County
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs allow increased
development in areas that a community has designated for development
in return for preservation of places a community wants to protect.
TDR is often used for agricultural and/or open space protection,
although it can be used to protect any important resource.
Generally established through a local zoning ordinance, a TDR
program can protect farmland or significant natural areas by shifting
development from those areas to areas that are planned for residential
and commercial growth. When the development rights are transferred
from the "sending" piece of property, that land is then
restricted to agricultural or conservation use by a conservation
easement and the "receiving" land can be developed at
a greater density than generally allowed under the municipality's
In a TDR program, local governments approve transactions and
monitor easements. Some communities have created "TDR banks"
that buy development rights with public funds and sell them to
developers and other private landowners. Other communities have
contracted out the easement monitoring aspect of the program to
other conservation-oriented groups, such as local land trusts.
The value of development rights is traditionally based on projections
about average property value changes in the sending area as well
as in the receiving area.
A "TDR-less" program is similar to a traditional TDR
program in that it allows development rights in a sending area
to be purchased and moved to a receiving area. However, TDR-less
programs use site specific appraisals to determine fair payments
to and from sending and receiving sites. For instance, a proposed
receiving site would be appraised to provide an estimate of the
increase in profit attributable to the additional density allowed
under a TDR program. The developer would then be required to spend
a specified percent of the estimated increased profit on preservation
of a sending site. The sending site would also be appraised to
estimate the fair value of the conservation easement that would
permanently restrict future development of that site. As with
traditional TDR programs, local governments approve transactions
and monitor easements on sending sites.