Caroline County, Maryland

Caroline County, Maryland, population 33,304 (2018), lies 70 miles east of Washington D.C. and 50 miles south of Wilmington, Delaware, in eastern Maryland. Aside from a few towns, the County is primarily rural, composed of farms, woodlands, and wetlands. In addition to several other goals, the County wants to protect the environment and conserve natural resources, including productive agricultural land.

In 1989, the County adopted a Transfer of Subdivision Development Rights ordinance designed primarily to preserve farmland in the County’s Agricultural and Rural zoning districts. The Agricultural District reserved land for agricultural activity and also protected farmers against complaints about noise, odor, fumes, dust or any other impacts arising out of normal farming operations. The Rural District was also intended to protect agricultural land but it allowed limited development for those willing to provide their own services and amenities. The ordinance allowed transfers from parcels in the Agricultural and Rural districts to parcels in the Rural District. Parcels in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area could not receive transferred development rights unless the sending site was also in the Critical Area.

The County adopted new TDR provisions in 2006 designed to preserve agricultural land and accomplish growth management goals. These provisions remain largely unchanged at Sec. 175.44: Transferable development rights.


Under Caroline County’s 2006 TDR amendments, sending areas are lands zoned R (Rural) that are not completely restricted from additional development by permanent easements and are not developed to the extent allowed by that district. Interested property owners must demonstrate that their parcels can actually accommodate development using percolation tests, hydrologic studies and other tests. The owner must retain one development right on the sending parcel but can sell or retain some or all of the site’s other TDRs. The Planning Commission must certify all transferable rights and the County Planner must maintain a registry of persons interested in buying and selling TDRs.

Receiving areas include designated portions of the R district or areas in a municipality with an intergovernmental agreement that includes TDR provisions. The county grants preliminary subdivision approval for a project using TDRs and final subdivision or site plan approval is granted only when the required number of TDRs have been transferred. Program requirements limit certain combinations of sending and receiving areas. For example, receiving areas inside the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area cannot accept TDRs from land outside this Critical Area and receiving areas in the Resource Conservation District cannot accept TDRs from an Intensely Developed District (IDD) or a Limited Development District (LDD).  

Program Status

The original program generated one transfer. According to Lori Schmick, Administrative Assistant, the original program was relatively unused because there was little demand for higher density development in Caroline County. Most developers were satisfied with the density allowed as a matter of right in the Rural district. Consequently, they had no need to buy additional rights to achieve bonus density. After the 2006 adoption of the new TDR regulations, 181 development rights have been approved for transfer.