TDRs preserve water, ag land

Transferring development rights limits density in Dolores Valley

Residents and Montezuma County commissioners currently are debating setbacks, but another part of the Dolores Valley Plan is commercial and residential density controls managed under a transferable development rights (TDR) mechanism.

A form of market-based zoning, TDRs use a system of buying and selling legal building rights between property owners for constructing units beyond the current limit of one home per 10 acres.

That relatively low density is seen as a water quality protection measure and prevents large-scale development along the river.

The TDR system is voluntary and designed to control density and also incentivize building out of the flood plain.

For example the owner of a 10-acre plat in the valley can build one home, but if he wants to build an additional residence, he has to buy one TDR from another 10-acre landowner in the valley, who then forfeits his right to develop that platted lot, a restriction that is attached to the deed if the land is sold.

There is a catch if a landowner wants to build on any part of his property that falls within the flood plain map established by the county and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To do so requires 1.5 TDRs, providing an incentive to build outside the flood plain.

One overall goal of a TDR system is it provides landowners in the Dolores Valley an opportunity to plat development value on their property, and then sell those rights over time for revenue while keeping their land in agricultural production.

TDRs held by landowners can be sold and bought in measurements of tenths.

If a landowner wants to sell his TDR for a vacant 10 acres, it first must be platted and recorded through the planning office, thereby attaching one TDR certificate. He then finds a buyer - for example, someone who wants to build a mother-in-law home on a 10-acre plat that already has one home.

A deal between the landowners is negotiated for the sale and purchase of one TDR, and the certificate is surrendered and then reissued in the new owners name.

"The reason to buy a TDR is to exceed your base density of one home per 10 acres," said James Dietrich, community services director for the county. "Once an additional TDR is secured, then they can move forward with building another unit."

The TDR program was added to the Dolores Valley Plan as part of the land use code in 2004.

So far there have been no sales of TDRs under the program, due in part to a sluggish real-estate market.

"There has not been one sold, so we don't know exactly what the deed document will look like when it is drafted by a lawyer, so we would have to put our heads together to make sure it works," Dietrich said.

There is a lot of flexibility built into the TDR plan if a landowner chooses to go that route.

Take a 100-acre piece of property as another example.

"TDRs are voluntary. If you think it is better to sell ten 10-acre parcels, then you can go through the subdivision process and you're good to go," Dietrich explained. "On the other hand if you want to keep half the land in agricultural production, you could plat it and sell off the TDR's and you still have room to subdivide and sell off the other 50 acres."

Subdivisions and legal parcels established before the 2003 Dolores Valley Plan still maintain their original development rights but do need acquire TDRs to exceed one unit per 10 acres.