TDR ordinance to be presented to cities

COVINGTON - Newton County's Planning and Development Department intends to visit with representatives from the county's municipalities in the upcoming months to gauge their interest in a proposed Transferable Development Rights (TDR) ordinance.

According to Senior Planner Scott Sirotkin, the TDR program is designed to address the unincorporated areas of the county, but there are areas where the municipalities can participate.

How much the municipalities want to participate is what the county wants to know as it continues to craft its ordinance.

Sirotkin already has presented the proposal to the Porterdale City Council. Porterdale officials said earlier this month they aren't interested at this time but want to keep the lines of communication open.

The TDR ordinance will be presented to the councils of Oxford, Covington, Newborn and Mansfield in coming months. While involvement on the part of Newton's municipalities is desirable, Sirotkin said a lack of participation won't hinder the ordinance, which is currently in the draft stage.

"We'd probably have a better program if we had participation from the cities, but we have a good plan in place," Sirotkin said.

Georgia currently has just one municipality with a TDR ordinance. Chattahoochee Hill Country, located 45 miles south of Atlanta in Fulton County, enacted its TDR ordinance in 2003 following passage of enabling legislation by the Georgia General Assembly in 1998.

A TDR program allows property owners to separate their development rights from properties designated as low-density areas and sell them to developers in areas designated for higher density. Once the development rights are sold, the low-density property is placed under a permanent conservation easement. Sirotkin said the program serves to preserve areas designated as more rural, with the costs of preservation borne by the developers who purchase the development rights in exchange for greater density.

Under a TDR program, a community must identify land it wants to protect and define it as "sending areas." These are the properties from which the development rights are severed and sold. Correspondingly, the community must establish "receiving areas," which is where the severed development rights are transferred. Sirotkin said Newton's draft ordinance has designated sending areas and receiving areas on both sides of the county.

"We've taken care to make sure this program is implemented countywide," he said. "TDRs could flow in any direction, from any part of the county to any other part of the county."

In addition, Sirotkin said the proposed ordinance includes incentives that make it easier to sell rights from a sending site on the west side of the county where development is already more dense. Plus, there are bonuses for developers to use TDRs for receiving sites on the less-dense east side in areas that have been designated for growth - specifically in the Mt. Pleasant and Stanton Springs development nodes. Bonuses typically come in the form of exemptions from one or more development requirements.

While it's hard to say how soon a TDR ordinance can be ready for presentation to the Board of Commissioners, Sirotkin said once the ordinance is OK'd implementation can come quickly. Just how quickly depends on how fast property owners decide to employ the ordinance as an alternative to developing their land, he said.