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Chattahoochee Hills, Georgia

Chattahoochee Hills, population 2,378 (2010), lies 30 miles southwest of downtown Atlanta. It is still relatively rural and was a part of unincorporated Fulton County known as the Chattahoochee Hill County until its incorporation as a City in 2007. Prior to incorporation, the Chattahoochee Hill Country Alliance, a non-profit organization, promoted a planning concept that relied heavily on TDR for implementation. In simple terms, that plan envisioned three villages surrounded by open space. The one-unit-per acre county zoning served as both the TDR allocation ratio in the sending area as well as the baseline density in the village receiving areas. In 2002, Fulton County amended its land use plan and adopted the Chattahoochee Hill Country Overlay District with hamlet and village zoning districts and a goal of preserving at least 60 percent of the surrounding countryside. In 2003, Fulton County adopted a TDR ordinance implementing this vision. In 2006, Fulton County approved conservation easements on two sending sites totaling 22 acres and the transfer of the resulting TDRs to The Chattahoochee Hill Country Conservancy acting as a TDR intermediary. Before the TDR program had a chance to progress any farther, part of this unincorporated County area was annexed by the City of Palmetto and the remainder became the City of Chattahoochee Hills.

In 2009, the City of Chattahoochee Hills adopted amendments to Chapter 14 Land Development and Environmental Protection that include the TDR provisions discussed in the Process section that follows.

Process

The Chattahoochee Hills TDR program aims to permanently preserve natural, environmental, historical and cultural resources while encouraging smart growth in places where it can be accommodated.

Potential sending areas include any properties not designated as receiving areas except publically owned parcels, land within mandated riparian buffers, properties already restricted by conservation easements and properties that are fully developed under existing zoning. The allocation ratio is one TDR per acre placed under permanent conservation easement in the sending area. When these easements are recorded, the City issues TDR certificates with serial numbers for the TDRs. If only a portion of the TDRs are sold initially, the City issues a new certificate reflecting the remaining TDRs and their corresponding serial numbers.

Receiving areas are Living Working Areas designated in the South Fulton 2015 Land Use Plan and land use plans adopted by the City of Chattahoochee Hills. Baseline in receiving areas is one dwelling per acre after deducting the acreage required for a 300-foot rural protection development setback. Bonus units are calculated by subtracting the baseline units from the total number of units proposed for the receiving site. All commercial development is considered bonus and one TDR is required for each 2,000 square feet of commercial floor area.

The ordinance allows the City to create a TDR bank. If a bank is formed, in addition to buying and selling TDRs, it must maintain a central registry of available credits. If a bank is not established, the Community Development Department is responsible for maintaining the registry. The ordinance creates acquisition priorities for the bank including properties near living working areas and areas adjacent the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries. The bank may purchase land in fee but the ordinance stresses that the intent is for the bank to then record easements on the property, retain the resulting TDRs for sale to developers and sell the land with the development restrictions intact.

Program Status

The Chattahoochee Hills TDR program was adopted during the recession that started in 2008. Not surprisingly, no receiving sites had used TDRs as of 2011 when this profile was written. In a November 21, 2011 message, City Planner Michael Morton anticipates that even when development resumes, TDR activity may be reduced by open space preservation within development sites as opposed to preservation of non-contiguous TDR sending sites.