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Newton County discussing TDRs

COVINGTON - After several years on the back burner, transferable development rights are once again being considered by county officials.

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. TDRs serve 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.

The county drafted a TDR ordinance about four years ago, but it was never adopted by the BOC, said Scott Sirotkin, director of the Department of Development Services. One thing that has changed since the previous ordinance was drafted is the adoption of the 2050 Plan, which identifies the sending and receiving areas more clearly, said Sirotkin. The plan calls for three zones within the county: Compact community, rural and conservation. "Roughly, the sending areas would be the rural and conservation zones and the receiving area would be the compact community zone. It is also possible we would look to have some TDRs be 'sendable' within the compact community zone," Sirotkin said.

During the board's annual retreat in February, members asked that county staff arrange a meeting with Royce Hanson, a TDR expert from Maryland who has family in Covington. Hanson was on hand to speak to the board at a work session prior to the board's Sept. 4 meeting.

Hanson spoke of the implementation of TDRs in Montgomery County, Md., which has one of the oldest TDR programs in the country. Since 1982, TDRs have protected 52,000 acres valued at $153 million, he said.

As far as the selling price for TDRs, in Montgomery County, they have ranged from a low of $3,750 per TDR in 1987 and to a peak of $47,000 in 2006. Prices fluctuate depending on the market, Hanson said.

"The worst thing to do is to suggest to farmers they're going to get X-dollars for a TDR. You don't know what they're going to get," Hanson said.

One potential problem that comes along with TDRs is that large private industry may use them to gobble up cheap land in rural areas, which might not be ideal due to traffic congestion and other issues such industries create, Hanson said.