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Conewago Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania

Conewago Township, population 5,709 (2000), lies in eastern Adams County, 100 miles west of Philadelphia and 15 miles east of Gettysburg. Over half of the Township is still zoned for agricultural uses. However, the Township has village scale development near the Borough of Hanover and suburban subdivisions surrounding the Borough of McSherrystown.

The Township’s new Zoning Ordinance, adopted in 2010, includes a TDR program designed to permanently preserve farmland, natural areas and rural character by allowing the voluntary transfer of development potential from land in the (A) Agricultural Zone to receiving areas in portions of the (HC) Highway Commercial Zone.

Sending areas are parcels at least three acres in size within the A Zone. The Township intends to reserve this zone primarily for agricultural and new land subdivisions are limited according to a formula that varies the number of allowable lots based on the size of the parent parcel. For example, one lot may be subdivided in a parcel of at least 2 acres but less than 20 acres in size; seven lots may be subdivided in a parcel of at least 120 acres but less than 140 acres in size; for parent parcels 140 acres or greater, seven lots may be subdivided plus one lot for each 20-acre portion in excess of 140 acres. However, when landowners choose to use the TDR option, they may record an easement that generates one TDR per each three gross acres within the sending parcel.

Sending area landowners may request a written certification of the number of TDRs available on their properties. If they choose to continue, landowners apply to sever their TDRs. Along with typical materials, such as a title search, Conewago requires a legal opinion of title, acceptable to the Township, affirming that the TDRs have not been previously severed. The application package must also include two proposed TDR easements; one with Conewago Township as the grantee and another with a conservation organization as the grantee and Conewago Township as the third party grantee. When the application has been approved, the easements are recorded, permanently restricting the sending parcel or a portion of that parcel to agricultural and conservation uses. Concurrently or thereafter, the landowner may execute and record a deed of transfer, transferring ownership of the TDRs.

Roughly 300 acres of Conewago is zoned HC, Highway Commercial. About one half of the HC is not a TDR receiving area and the other half is a TDR receiving area. The non-TDR portion of the HC has a maximum lot coverage requirement of 65 percent. The portion of the HC that serves as a TDR receiving area has a baseline lot coverage of 10 percent. Each TDR transferred to these TDR receiving sites allows lot coverage to increase by 1,000-square foot increments up to a maximum coverage of 65 percent. These sites can furthermore achieve a maximum lot coverage of 75 percent by using TDR and complying with specified design standards.

Prior to final approval of a receiving site development using TDRs, the applicant must provide evidence of the sending site easement and deed of transfer as well as provide deed restriction language documenting the entire transfer agreement. Alternatively, the applicants can wait until final receiving site development approval with the three unrecorded documents: sending site easement, deed of transfer and deed restriction language. Under this scenario, the Township records all three documents, simultaneously preserving the sending site, transferring ownership of the TDRs and retiring the TDRs in the receiving site development.