Chanceford Township, York County, Pennsylvania

Chanceford Township, population 6,111 (2010), is located in eastern York County, Pennsylvania. The City of York lies ten miles to the west and Philadelphia is 70 miles to the east. The township remains primarily rural. Although the Susquehanna River forms the eastern boundary of the Township, there are no bridges connecting Chanceford with Lancaster County on the east side of the river.

The preservation of agricultural land is one of the eight primary goals of Chanceford’s zoning code. To implement that goal, the ordinance suggests five objectives, including creating an extensive, well-insulated agricultural area and directing residential growth away from quality farmland. Furthermore, the code explains that the agricultural zone is not a “holding zone” but, rather, a zone having a positive purpose of utilizing the Township’s natural resources for the benefit of the entire community. Specifically, the Township believes that future growth should expand the incorporated Borough of Felton and infill the Township’s three unincorporated villages.

In the late 1980s, Chanceford adopted a TDR ordinance designed to preserve environmentally sensitive areas as well as agricultural land. The Process section below summarizes the TDR components of the zoning code. As described below, Chanceford allows transfers of development rights between parcels zoned Conservation and under common ownership and between parcels zoned Agriculture and under common ownership.


Approximately 10 percent of the land in Chanceford Township is zoned Conservation and roughly 80 percent of the land in Chanceford Township is zoned Agricultural. The allowable location of residential development in both zones is largely determined by Chanceford’s definition of the term “land of low quality for agricultural use.” The determination of land of low quality for agricultural use is based on the official soil survey or because the land cannot feasibly be farmed due to physical constraints (rock, swamps, wetlands, and steep slopes) or the unsuitable size or shape of the parcel for the efficient use of farm machinery.

In the agricultural district, allowed residential densities are determined by the size of the land parcel as of July 3, 1979. For example, a parcel of 80,000 square feet or less would be allowed one dwelling unit but a parcel as large as 120 acres would only be allowed six units or one unit per 20 acres. New subdivisions of land in the agricultural district are permitted to accommodate this sliding scale formula. However, new lots are limited to a maximum of 45,000 square feet in size. Furthermore, lots used for residential purposes must be located on land of low quality for agricultural use. If it is not possible to locate dwellings on land of low agricultural quality, dwellings can be permitted on that part of a parcel that is the least agriculturally productive and which would minimize interference with farming.

In the Chanceford program, any two lots zoned Agricultural and in common ownership can qualify for transfers subject to the following conditions. Development rights cannot be transferred from a sending site if such development could not actually be accomplished due to physical features such as inadequate access, steep slopes, or wetlands. Furthermore, the owners must demonstrate that the sending site is more desirable for agriculture than the receiving site.

The proposed sending site must retain either an existing dwelling or the right to build at least one dwelling unless it is permanently merged with an adjacent parcel that has either an existing dwelling or the right to build at least one dwelling.

The receiving site must be land of low quality for agricultural use as described above or land of lower quality for agricultural use than the sending site. Before approval of a transfer, the owners must provide the Township with a recordable agreement to give public notice of the transfer. This agreement must be in a form approved by the Township Solicitor.

In addition to the Agricultural District, TDR is permitted in the Conservation District. The purpose of this zoning classification is to conserve open space, water supply sources, woodlands, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources. In addition to natural areas, Chanceford’s Conservation District contains substantial areas of prime agricultural soils. The permitted densities, development restrictions, and transfer of development rights process in the Conservation District are identical to those imposed in the Agricultural District.

Program Status

The Chanceford TDR program is very straightforward. The ordinance relies on sending site owners to be motivated to transfer development rights as a means of maximizing the use of development rights while preserving prime agricultural soils for farming.

On the other hand, the Chanceford TDR program lacks many of the incentives which other communities have used to generate transfers. For example, the ordinance has a transfer ratio of one-to-one; only one unit can be transferred to the receiving site for each unit removed from the sending site. The requirement that the sending and receiving sites be in common ownership may also discourage the use of the program since some farmers may not want to spend the time and money finding a receiving site, buying it, and obtaining the necessary approvals. In 1996, Gilbert Malone, a land-use attorney planning who works with several communities in York County, Pennsylvania, reported that the Chanceford Township TDR ordinance had not been used as of that date.