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Shrewsbury Township, York County, Pennsylvania

Shrewsbury Township, population 5,947 (2000), is located in southern York County, Pennsylvania. There are four incorporated boroughs within the township boundaries. Shrewsbury is bisected by Interstate 83 which joins the City of York, 15 miles to the north, and Baltimore, Maryland, 30 miles to the south.

Decades ago, the Township adopted a TDR program designed to protect quality farmland in a district that was then called the Agricultural Preservation District, which encompassed about 70 percent of the land area in the Township. The Agricultural Preservation District was established to protect agriculture as a viable, economic activity by generally permitting only agricultural or agricultural-related activities. This district included areas with highly productive soils and strong agricultural activity.

In the Agricultural Preservation District, residential development could not be located on quality farmland. If an owner of property zoned Agricultural Preservation could not achieve base-line density limits without developing quality farmland, that owner could transfer the unusable development rights to agriculturally-inferior land elsewhere in the Agricultural Preservation District. These transfers had to comply with one of two sets of criteria depending on whether the sending and receiving sites were under common or separate ownership.

The TDR ordinance that appears on the Township web site in 2011 (dated May 2010) retains some of the features of the original program and changes others as detailed in the Process section below.

Process

In the current zoning code, the Agricultural Preservation District has been replaced by the Agricultural District, which applies to roughly 75 percent of the Township’s total land area. The Agricultural District is the TDR sending area. In the Agricultural District, each parcel that existed in 1976 is allowed at least one development right, or DR. The number of DRs available per acre decreases as the size of the parcel increases. Parcels less than five acres in size are granted one DR, parcels at least 5 acres but less than 15 acres get two DRs, parcels at least 30 acres but less than 60 acres are allocated three DRs and so on until parcels 150 acres and larger are allocated 8 DRs plus one dwelling per each 30 acres greater than 150 acres.

On-site use of DRs within the Agricultural District is limited. New lots in this district cannot exceed 50,000 square feet in size unless when the property owner retires one TDR for each acre of land in excess of 50,000 square feet. The current Agricultural District does not retain a requirement from the old code that land divisions for single-family residential development can only occur on less productive agricultural land meaning Class III or lower. (Nevertheless the old code allowed lots smaller than 5 acres with Class I or II soils to have one dwelling and lots five acres and larger with Class I and II soils to have 2 units per acre.)

The current TDR code section also allows DRs from sending areas to be transferred to receiving sites in four designated receiving zoning districts. DRs can be transferred directly to a specific receiving site or to any person who may hold the DRs for later use at a receiving site. The sending parcel must retain at least one DR for on site use. Under the new code, sending and receiving sites do not have to be under common ownership.

Shrewsbury’s receiving areas include land in the Rural Residential Receiving, Suburban Residential Receiving and Interchange districts as well as the Suburban Residential District where public sewer and water are available.

Using one of these receiving areas as an example, the Suburban Residential Receiving (SRR) District consists of roughly 50 acres of land near the boroughs of Shrewsbury, Glen Rock and New Freedom. This district allows two tiers of bonus development using DRs. In the first tier, there is no obligation to buy DRs in order to achieve the level of development permitted in the sending areas, as detailed above. However, DRs are required to achieve what is called “baseline density” of 3 units per acre in single-family or semi-detached developments or 6 units per acre in single-family attached, multi-family and active adult developments. In the second tier, additional DRs can be used to increase density in single-family or semi-detached developments from that “baseline density” of 3 units per acre to a maximum density of 4 units per acre. DRs can also be used to increase single-family attached, multi-family and active adult developments from the “baseline density” of 6 units per acre to a maximum of 8 units per acre. One DR allows receiving area developments to achieve one principal non-dwelling use, 3 bonus dwelling units or 4 active adult dwelling units.

Program Status

No results have been reported about the Shrewsbury TDR in its current configuration. The new ordinance allows land zoned Agricultural District to be subdivided for single family residential development even if it is rated as prime agricultural land (Class I and II). This change reduces the impediments to on-site development in the Agricultural District and may decrease landowner motivation to use the TDR option.

The original Shrewsbury program was relatively successful. According to Gilbert G. Malone, an attorney who served as the Township Solicitor for Shrewsbury and several other York County townships, from 20 to 25 dwelling rights had been transferred as of 1996. In most cases, the receiving sites were small lots created in woodland areas that were unsuitable for farming. Most of these transfers were between parcels in common ownership. But Mr. Malone estimated that about five transfers used the original ordinance’s provisions for transferring between parcels in separate ownerships.