Blue Earth County, Minnesota, 90 miles southwest of Minneapolis, has a total population of 64,107. Most of these people live in Mankato and 13 smaller municipalities, leaving 14,107 within the 740 square miles under county jurisdiction. Clearly, Blue Earth County is serious about its goal of steering growth into cities and keeping land under county jurisdiction in farming, conservation, and other rural uses.
TDR has been a significant part of this success. The Agriculture and Conservation zoning districts, which regulate most county land, allow a baseline density of one residential unit per quarter-quarter section, meaning one dwelling per 40 acres. However, property owners can transfer development rights from one quarter-quarter section to a contiguous quarter-quarter section if approved by conditional use permit (CUP). The sending and receiving sites do not have to be under common ownership, but approval of a CUP requires the Planning Commission to make findings regarding compatibility with surrounding property, consistency with county goals, and maintenance of environmental standards. If the CUP is adopted by the County Board, Blue Earth County permanently restricts development on the sending site by recording the resolution approving the transfer in the county land records.
Since these transfers occur at a one-to-one ratio, the overall development level does not change and, ideally, the transfers result in preservation of the most productive agricultural land and the most sensitive environmental areas. Consequently, even though the receiving sites are in the Agricultural or Conservation zoning districts, transfers are achieving key goals of the Blue Earth County Land Use Plan of maintaining agricultural areas protecting natural resources. To date, at least 5,000 acres have been protected by this program.