Commissioners See No Future With TDR Program

SNOW HILL – A new amendment to the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan called the Priority Preservation Area element will not include transfer development rights (TDRs), county elected officials decided last week during a discussion of the draft element and the recertification of the county land preservation program.

The draft Priority Preservation Area (PPA) element is required by the State of Maryland to be added to the Comprehensive Plan. The draft PPA will now go through a 60-day review by state and planning agencies from adjoining jurisdictions.

In the fall, the public can comment on the draft PPA during a public hearing to be held by the Worcester County Planning Commission.

The language of the preservation element seemed to change a major part of the comprehensive plan, at first, adding TDRs back in after the County Commissioners took that program off the table last August.

A clause in the PPA, which when approved would become part of the comprehensive plan, urges consideration of a TDR program to allow property owners to sell off development rights in a PPA.

The eliminated clause reads: “Consider implementation of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program that would eliminate development potential in selected areas within the PPA.”

A TDR program allows a landowner to sell unused development rights to another property owner without development rights, or with fewer development rights than wanted, for a project.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the TDR clause was eliminated from the PPA element by the commissioners to prevent confusion.

The commissioners voted last August to remove TDRs from consideration as part of the comprehensive rezoning of the county.

“We don’t see them as being a viable program for Worcester County,” said Ed Tudor, director of the unnamed consolidated planning and permitting departments.

Tudor recommended removing the references to TDRs in the PPA.

“Our planning commission says TDRs simply will not work,” said Commissioner Linda Busick.

“I’ve had some concerns raised about the TDRs,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “I agree that at this time we do not want to look at TDRs.”

Commissioner Bud Church said he had received some calls on TDRs, and made some calls, and those he spoke to “overwhelmingly” supported TDRs. However, Church said he would vote for the motion to take TDRs out of the PPA element.

TDRs could be addressed later, the commissioners concluded, while the recertification needed to be sent in before the grace period is up.

A TDR program could be included in the next comprehensive plan, staff said.

“In a very short period of time, we’re going to start the comprehensive plan process all over again,” said county administrator Gerry Mason.

State law now requires counties to write a new comprehensive plan every six years, versus every 10 years under the old requirements.  

“As circumstances and the economy changes we may be addressing TDRs. We may be addressing impact fees,” said Mason.

“As we’ve often said in the past, it’s just a plan. It’s not written in stone,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas.