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Alachua County, Florida

Alachua County, population 217,955 (2000), is located in northern Florida, and surrounds the City of Gainesville. In addition to concern for environmental resources in general, Alachua County specifically wants to preserve the character of Cross Creek, the village that was the setting for many of the writings of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of “The Yearling”. TDR provisions for the Cross Creek area were initially adopted in 1987 and are discussed in the first section of this profile. The County also adopted countywide TDR provisions in 2009 which are discussed in the second section of this profile.

Sending areas in Alachua County include wetlands, habitat, hammocks, lake buffers and bald eagle nesting areas.

Cross Creek

The Cross Creek Special Area Study, adopted in 1985, recognized that the character of Cross Creek is a combination of people and homes as well as natural resources. To help preserve these characteristics, the County included a TDR mechanism for this area in development regulations adopted in 1987 and land use policies adopted in 1988. The Cross Creek TDR mechanism was described in Beyond Takings and Givings.

In 2005, the County formally adopted its 2001-2020 Comprehensive Plan, which largely retains the Cross Creek policies contained in the earlier Comp Plan, again calling for the protection of this area’s unique environmental, cultural and historical conditions. In 2005, the County also included development regulations for Cross Creek designed to implement the goals for this special study area. As stated in these 2005 regulations, a property owner may transfer density from a resource protection area to an adjoining property, regardless of whether or not the properties are under the same ownership, if the proposed preservation and development of all affected properties are contained in a single, unified application for a Planned Development. The 2001-2020 Comprehensive Plan provides the following explanation of the sending site as of right development potential and transfer opportunities.

  • In areas designated as wetlands, density transfers are allowed at a ratio of one unit per five acres to contiguous property.
  • In Exceptional Upland Habitat, development can occur on site at a density of one unit per five acres but transfers are allowed at a ratio of two units per five acres to contiguous receiving sites.
  • In Hammock Zone, on-site development is limited to one unit per two acres in the Village Center and one unit per five acres in the Village Periphery but transfers can occur at the ratio of two units per five acres.
  • In Lake Buffer Areas, density transfers are allowed at the ratio of two dwelling units per five acres.
  • Bald Eagle Nesting Areas, transfers to contiguous property are permitted at a rate two units per five acres in secondary zones and three units per five acres in primary zones.

Development rights may be transferred to receiving sites in the Village Periphery Development Area. The Periphery Area allows a density of one unit per five acres without transfers. However, this density can be increased to one unit per acre in order to accommodate transfers from the Resource Protection Area sending sites described above; that constitutes a density bonus of 400 percent.

In 1995, Wendy V. Kinser, Chief of Development Services, reported that the TDR mechanism had been used by several single-family developments. However, she reported that the County had not kept statistics on the exact number of transfers or the land area saved through this process.

County-wide TDR Program

Following a 2008 amendment, Alachua county’s 2001-2020 Comp Plan now contains policy direction for a county-wide TDR program. The Future Land Use Element’s Objective 9.1 briefly explains that the TDR program is designed to protect environmental resources, viable agriculture and rural landscape while promoting the concentration of development in places where it can be efficiently accommodated by infrastructure and public services. Specifically, the Plan states that TDR can facilitate transfers from conservation and agricultural areas to land within the Urban Cluster or possibly within other municipalities. To qualify as sending sites, agricultural parcels must be at least 160 acres in size (or not smaller than 40 acres for a parcel of exceptional agricultural value), located outside the Urban Cluster and classified as agricultural by the County Appraiser. To qualify as a conservation sending site, a parcel must contain Strategic Ecosystems, be listed for acquisition by Alachua County Forever, and at least 160 acres in size (or not less than 40 acres if the parcel is determined to be of exceptional conservation value or contiguous to an established preservation area or designated sending area.)

According to the Comp Plan, the TDR available to a sending site is the lesser of the following two options minus any dwelling units not included in the transfer:

  • The number of dwelling units allowed on the sending site; or
  • The number of upland acres on the property.

In addition, two bonus TDRs are granted per site plus one TDR per ten acres of conservation area on site plus one TDR per 20 acres of non-conservation area on site.

To receive TDRs, sending site owners must record conservation or agricultural easements on their properties and submit to a rezoning of the property to a sending area zoning designation. The easements may allow the sending site owners to retain residential density of one dwelling unit per 40 acres on agricultural land and one dwelling unit per 200 acres on conservation land where consistent with a Conservation Management Plan. (Densities as high as one unit per 40 acres may be allowed on conservation land under specified conditions such as the clustering of units to best protect environmental resources.)

The Comp Plan identifies three potential categories of receiving areas. 1) When the Urban Cluster is expanded, any increase in density or intensity resulting from this change is subject to TDR requirements. The 2009 Land Development Code amendments subsequently required a ratio of two development rights per unit of proposed residential increase or ten development rights per acre of non-residential land use created. 2) Non-residential development sites anywhere within unincorporated Alachua County may become receiving sites. The Land Development Regulations subsequently specified that the open space  otherwise required at these receiving sites could be reduced at a transfer ratio of ten development rights per acre of reduced open space. 3) By interlocal agreement, receiving areas can be located within any municipality in Alachua County.

In September 2009, the County amended its Land Development Code, adding Article 29, implementing the Section 9.0 of the Comp Plan, Transfer of Development Rights Program, as described above. These regulations clarify that landowners may apply for a transfer of development rights certificate without identifying a proposed receiving site. The regulations further describe the procedures required to limit development of the sending site, issue transfer of development rights certificates and use these rights in receiving sites.