Bluffton, South Carolina

The Town of Bluffton, population 23,097 (20018) is located in coastal Beaufort County, 12 miles west of Hilton Head Island and 20 miles northeast of Savannah, Georgia. Until recently, the Town encompassed one square mile on a bluff overlooking the May River. However, due to major annexations, the Town now incorporates a 50-square mile area. With this boundary expansion, Bluffton needed to manage development pressures that are threatening to degrade the area’s many environmental and historic resources. In 2007, Bluffton adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance designed to protect environmentally sensitive, historic, and natural resources by directing growth to areas better suited to offer the public services needed for development.

When examining applications for transfer, the Town considers numerous factors including whether or not the proposed sending site is actually developable and the extent to which the transfer would reduce impacts on waterways, roadways, schools, and other infrastructure. Similarly, the Town considers whether the proposed receiving site is designated for growth in the Future Land Use Map and, if a Mixed-Use Development is proposed, whether the receiving site project incorporates public, civic, and commercial uses as well as affordable housing. The ordinance emphasizes that TDR is not intended to increase the Town’s overall capacity and in fact is designed to decrease the Town’s development potential. The Planning Commission holds a public hearing prior to passing its recommendations on to the Town Council, which also holds a public hearing on the proposal.

In addition to developer-initiated applications, the Town Council may issue transferable development units to a given receiving zone if, following a recommendation from the Planning Commission and a public hearing, the Town Council finds that the transfer implements the Comprehensive Plan.

The ordinance specifies that the Town’s Development Rights Bank may receive donations of Development Units and transfer these rights to an appropriate receiving site. The Town can set prices for these rights on any reasonable basis.

According to the November 11, 2007 edition of the, the TDR ordinance was designed with a specific receiving site in mind: Buckwalter Place, a mixed-use development in Bluffton’s emerging technology park. In late 2007, the Town was also considering a proposal to transfer 405 potential dwelling units from Bluffton Park near Old Town Bluffton. Of this total, 81 units were proposed for deposit in the Town’s Development Rights Bank, and the remaining 324 units were proposed for transfer to a 57-acre project that is ultimately planned for 900 dwelling units near the intersection of Buckwalter and Bluffton Parkways.   

A 2014 article reports that the TDR program experienced at least eight transfers since 2007 including a deal in 2012 in which the owners of Palmetto Bluff agreed to transfer 1,300 units from a sending site close to the headwaters of the May River.