Transfer of Development Rights – New Ways of Looking at Preservation and Investment

Resources and Tools

Many planners are familiar with Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) programs as a tool used to preserve open space by lifting development rights from a property and using those rights in another area to develop at a higher density. Less known is the use of TDRs by developers for other purposes, such as development design flexibility or environmental mitigation , and the existence of county-municipal TDR programs.

Successful TDR programs throughout the United States have effectively preserved hundreds of thousands of acres, and programs have evolved over time to include TDRs for more than just density. TDR programs offer several advantages not found with traditional land preservation approaches, including:

  • Private funds purchase development rights
  • Development is sent to designated growth areas
  • Economic and development activity increases in growth areas

If you’re attending the Maryland Municipal League (MML) Conference in Ocean City, The Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) is hosting the “Transfer of Development Rights – New Ways of Looking at Preservation and Investment” workshop on Monday, June 26, from 2:45 p.m. to 4 p.m. The workshop includes presentations from municipal, county and state practitioners working with TDR programs as well as an interactive discussion with attendees about specific local challenges and solutions. In addition to benefitting counties by preserving open space and agricultural lands, TDR programs can help municipalities too. In exchange for municipalities agreeing to designate municipal growth areas as “receiving areas” for development rights that are lifted from county “sending areas”, counties could offer municipalities incentives such as:

  • Waiver of the 5-year delay provision for annexation
  • Ranking formula for easement acquisitions to prioritize greenbelts around towns
  • Payment to reduce municipal costs for implementing TMDL or MS4 requirements
  • Elimination of impact fees
  • Provision of tax increment financing to fund infrastructure
  • Easier access/process for obtaining water and sewer capacity

One of the recommendations of Planning’s 2016 Transfer of Development Rights Committee Report was to develop inter-jurisdictional TDR programs between counties and local jurisdictions. In spring 2017, Planning began working with counties and municipalities to assess their interest in developing an inter-jurisdictional program. Several jurisdictions provided positive feedback, and work on pilot projects is anticipated to begin later in 2017.

A TDR program can be tailored to advance the specific goals of a jurisdiction, with each designed to build upon existing long-term plans and visions. Planning staff is available to provide educational services – presentations, workshops and informational materials; technical assistance – policy, plans and ordinances; and analysis – supply and demand, tax revenue analysis, needs assessment of infrastructure and one-on-one consulting.

We look forward to seeing you at the “Transfer of Development Rights – New Ways of Looking at Preservation and Investment” workshop at MML on Monday, June 26, from 2:45 to 4 p.m. To learn more about TDRs and how they can benefit your jurisdiction, please visit Planning’s TDR website or contact Debbie Herr Cornwell at or 410.767.4620.

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