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Resource Conservation

Transfer of Development Rights Programs

Transfer of Development Rights, or TDR, programs are a great vehicle for preserving rural land and encouraging development in existing communities while leveraging private - not public - funds. Following the administration's lead, Planning is changing Maryland for the better by serving rural communities in ways that are not one-size-fits-all. Improving the quality of life in rural areas means helping them successfully uphold the high quality of life many already offer.

Through TDR programs, developers, rather than the government, buy development rights from owners of rural land that lies in designated sending areas, which county governments designate for preservation. A perpetual conservation easement is then placed on the property. Developers can use their purchased development rights to build more residences, increase commercial square footage or gain other marketable features in receiving areas, which are located in areas where development and infrastructure are planned and desired

Transfer of Development Rights Committee Convened

Cover of Transfer of Development Rights Program Committee Report

In 2015, Secretary David R. Craig created a Transfer of Development Rights Committee including county executives and county commission presidents from counties that use TDR programs and their representatives. From September through December 2015, Planning staff held two full meetings of this ad-hoc committee along with four regional committee meetings.

The goal of the committee was "to compare local TDR programs in Maryland, jointly develop a model TDR approach, and identify and seek to remove obstacles to implementing a successful TDR program." Planning's findings include the following:

  • Four essential program components must exist for a TDR program to be successful:
    • Strong incentives for landowners in sending areas to sell development rights;
    • Demand for bonus density or its equivalent exists in receiving zones;
    • TDRs are the predominant option for acquiring bonus density in receiving areas; and
    • The TDR program moves development rights from rural to growth areas.
  • Of the twelve county programs examined, only Montgomery County's TDR program contained all four elements.
  • Most counties said that their programs would work much better if development rights could be transferred from rural county land into municipalities, which have the infrastructure in place to accommodate development. Unfortunately, no interjurisdictional transfer agreements have been created between a county and its municipalities.
  • If the counties and the state want municipalities to participate, they must provide incentives in the forms of infrastructure, community enhancements, or other means to incentivize municipalities to become receiving areas.

The committee issued its report in April 2016 which describes essential program features of Transfer of Development Rights, obstacles to program success, and a series of recommendations developed jointly by Planning and the committee. The report is available for download.