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Greenville County, South Carolina

Greenville County, population 451,225 (2010), surrounds the City of Greenville in northwestern South Carolina. In 1983, the County adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance to apply only in those zoning classifications which specifically allow it. To date, only the Paris Mountain Environmentally Sensitive District (ESD-PM) has been designated to use the TDR ordinance.

Due to its natural setting and proximity to downtown Greenville, Paris Mountain is highly sought after for single-family residential development. In particular demand are lots on the west and north sides of Paris Mountain with their sweeping views of Greenville and the surrounding countryside.

Greenville County was concerned about the ability of Paris Mountain’s main arterial, Altamont Road, to accommodate traffic from the homes that rely on it for access. Consequently, the County prepared a traffic study and determined the maximum density which could be allowed to access Altamont Road without overwhelming that road’s capacity. The land which relies on Altamont Road for access was then rezoned to ESD-PM, reducing maximum baseline density to 1.1 units per acre.

In other zones, Greenville County provides flexibility through lot averaging. However, lot averaging is not permitted in the ESD-PM zone. Instead, the ESD-PM zone offers some compensation for reduced density through the ability to transfer unused development rights. The ESD-PM zone permits administrative approval of transfers of development rights between parcels which may or may not be contiguous or under the same ownership as long as both the sending and receiving sites are within the ESD-PM zone. Although the zoning code has been reorganized, the substance of the TDR code section (now 8:5 ESD-PM Environmentally Sensitive District- Paris Mountain) is essentially unchanged from the version used to write the 2003 case study. Consequently, the following profile duplicates the one that appeared in Beyond Takings and Givings.

Process

The Policy and Intent section of Greenville County’s TDR ordinance states that the TDR system has five purposes.

  • Balance the individual interests of land owners with the efficient use of county services and other public interests.
  • Secure an appropriate mix of developed land and open space.
  • Preserve natural and scenic qualities.
  • Control the transition from undeveloped to developed land.
  • Foster growth in areas best suited to development while providing economic return to the owners of land restricted from development.

The ordinance also contains 11 principles governing transferable development rights.

  • Transfers can occur between parcels which may or may not be contiguous or under the same ownership.
  • Transfers can only occur in specifically designated zones.
  • Once development rights have been transferred, the sending site is permanently reserved from further development.
  • Property owners can own only those transferable development rights allocated to their properties.
  • Development rights cannot be transferred from one zoning classification to another.
  • The method for allocating development rights must be adopted separately for each zoning classification.
  • The zoning classification determines the uses allowed in a zone regardless of whether the zone allows TDR.
  • Transferable development rights are owned by the owner of fee title to the land.
  • Unless otherwise specified, purchasers of land obtain development rights along with the acquisition of fee title.
  • Fractions of development rights may be transferred.
  • The number of development rights transferred cannot exceed the number needed to construct the receiving site project.

There are seven steps in the rezoning process; the entire process is handled administratively.

  • The Planning Commission calculates the allocation of development rights for each property.
  • The R.M.C. Office (County Clerk) records this allocation by plat.
  • Documents are prepared which indicate the properties from which development rights are being severed and to which these rights are being transferred.
  • The County Auditor certifies the number of development rights available for transfer from the sending site.
  • Once a transfer has occurred, the R.M.C. Office must notify the County Auditor and the Building Codes Department.
  • When a building permit is issued for a receiving site project using transferred development rights, the Building Codes Department must notify the County Auditor so that the Auditor can update the TDR records.
  • When property rights are transferred from a sending site, that property indefinitely forfeits those development rights.

As discussed above, to date, the County has only authorized TDR to be used in one zoning district, the Environmentally Sensitive District -Paris Mountain, or ESD-PM. The ESD-PM zone essentially allows limited single-family residential development at a baseline density of 1.1 dwelling units per acre. The ESD-PM zone reduced the previously-permitted maximum density for environmental reasons in general and, in particular, because of traffic constraints on Altamont Road. The zoning code states that properties can be removed from the restrictive ESD-PM zone if the owners can develop the property in a way that does not require access from Altamont Road.

As mentioned above, the transfer provisions were incorporated in the ESD-PM zone to compensate property owners for the ESD-PM downzoning and to locate development where it can best be accommodated. Although TDR allows for slightly higher densities on receiving sites, the County can adequately serve the amount of development which could be generated by full build-out of the maximum density limit of the ESD-PM zone.

Sending site owners could have several motivations to sell their development rights rather than use them on the sending site. Transferring may allow them to realize some economic return from properties with steep slopes or other constraints which make them difficult or impossible to develop. Alternatively, the rights from sending sites with little view potential can be used to increase density on land on those sides of Paris Mountain with the best views of the valley below. Sending site owners can transfer development rights at the rate of 1.75 units per acre, whereas they can develop on site at the lower rate of 1.1 units per acre; this represents a transfer ratio of 1.6:1.

The receiving site developers are property owners with building sites that are appropriate to accommodate additional density. By using TDR, receiving site density can increase from 1.1 to 1.7 units per acre, a density bonus of 55 percent. In many instances, the transfers allow smaller view lots which can be sold at a lower price, making them more competitive in the market place. The cost of buying development rights is compensated by the ability to create more lots for sale.

Program Status

The Greenville County TDR program has several factors typically found in successful programs. The sending site owners are motivated to transfer development not only by transfer incentives but also by constraints which often make it difficult to develop on site. Receiving-site developers want the additional density provided by TDR in order to be more competitive in the market. And the County has reduced the uncertainty often associated with TDR programs by making the entire process administrative; if all code provisions are met, the transfer is handled entirely by County staff without hearings or discretionary decisions on the part of elected or appointed officials. As a result, approximately ten transfers have been approved so far under the Greenville County program.

The last update of this estimate was provided by Planning Director F. James Forbes in 2001.