All property in Harford County has a zoning designation and a “right to development”. This means that each parcel of land has a defined land use and a designated type and number of units that can be built on the property.
The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) occurs when the option to build on a piece of property is sold, or otherwise re-assigned, to another parcel of land where building can take place instead. The property receiving the additional development rights may or may not have the same underlying zoning as the original property, but through the TDR is allowed an increased density.
When done correctly, TDR can concentrate residential development in areas that are specifically designated for growth, while preserving agricultural lands. However, under the current Harford County Zoning Code, for agricultural landowners to realize the benefits of their property, they must transfer their building rights to other farms and rural areas—rather than areas already included in the Development Envelope. This can lead to more sprawl in rural areas and higher density development than would otherwise be permitted in the existing zoning.
Development rights on Agricultural (AG) land
In general, land that is zoned AG may have one dwelling unit per 10 acres of property. An AG landowner can sell or transfer these rights to build—therefore receiving a potential financial benefit, and removing the option of residential development on their land.
Property that is zoned AG is allowed to have residential lots at the following density: § 267-53 in the Harford County Zoning Code
- A single lot is permitted on any parcel that is great than 20,000 feet² (.46 acres) and less than 11 acres;
- 2 lots are permitted on any parcel of land that is from 11 acres to 19.99 acres;
- 1 additional lot is permitted for each additional 10 acres in excess of 20; and
- An additional lot is permitted for any member of the immediate family of persons who were individual owners of record (not corporate, partnership or joint-venture owners) of the parcel.
All developments rights on AG land, including those acquired by family members of the landowner, can be transferred to another property. The initial property must retain at least one development right, plus one for each existing dwelling on the property.
The development rights can only be transferred once.
When the development rights are transferred
One residential unit is permitted per every 2 acres in Rural Residential (RR) zoned property. Village Residential (VR) zoning allows 3 residential units per 1 acre where public water and sewer are available.
When development rights are transferred to RR or VR, the recipient property is permitted one additional dwelling per every 2 acres, up to the total number of development units transferred. For example:
There is a 45 acre parcel of AG zoned land with one house on the property. The initial landowner has 4 “rights to development”. One right must be retained for the existing house; therefore they have 3 rights that can be transferred to another property.
If the development rights are transferred to land zoned RR (1 unit per 2 acres), the receiving landowner can build a total of 3 additional units, at an increased density of 2 units per every 2 acres.
If the development rights are transferred to a land zoned VR (3 units per acre), the receiving landowner can now build a total of 3 additional units, at an increased density of 7 units per every 2 acres.
Purpose of TDR
In many states, such as Pennsylvania, TDR is a voluntary practice to protect farmland from development and redirects that building right to an area designated as a growth area. Pennsylvania also notes that “Transferable Development Rights remove some of the windfalls and wipeouts associated with conventional zoning by allowing landowners in areas typically zoned for agricultural and very low density residential use to capture some of the same financial rewards available to landowners located in areas zoned for suburban and urban land uses.”
Normally, as an incentive to purchase the TDR building rights in a Growth Area, the developer receives additional benefits such as higher density or more uses of the property than would otherwise be permitted in the existing zoning.
The Transfer of Development Rights in Harford County does not benefit farmland. Developers often get enhanced benefits and density as a right from rezoning or by conforming to a few regulations which have minimal or no cost to them.