Chesterfield Township, Burlington County, New Jersey

(Profiled January 2021)

Chesterfield Township, population 7,500 (2018), is located within the I-95 megalopolis, 30 miles northeast from Philadelphia and 70 miles southwest from New York City. Despite being in the path of intensive growth pressure, Chesterfield has combined state and county preservation funds with its own TDR program to preserve 7,956 acres of farmland to date, which represents most of its agricultural land and over half of its total land area.  

In 1975, Chesterfield Township adopted a TDR ordinance that went unused and was amended in 1985 and 1987. After the State of New Jersey adopted the Burlington County TDR Demonstration Act in 1989, Chesterfield developed several draft plans, ultimately adopting a new TDR ordinance that was amended in 2002 along with a master plan for Old York Village, the 560-acre TDR receiving area.   

In contrast with incremental TDR programs that evolve over time, Chesterfield meticulously developed its program to maximize effectiveness. TDR supply was calculated by analyzing soil suitability for all qualified sending sites. Old York, the program’s only receiving area, was planned as a tradition neighborhood design (TND) development with a density comparable to the nearby historic village of Crosswicks. To reduce dependency on car travel, Old York has local-serving retail, offices, recreational sites, public facilities and an elementary school plus walking paths connecting the various neighborhoods with each other as well as Crosswicks. This attention to detail required extraordinary public involvement and active participation from the development community. By doing this legwork in advance, Chesterfield was able to adopt detailed development requirements and architectural design standards that eliminated the need for public hearings as long as builders followed the rules and transferred the required number of TDRs.   

The sending area consists of the 7,472 acres of farmland in parcels over 10 acres in size. The sending area is zoned AG, which nominally allows on site development at a density of one unit per ten acres or one dwelling per 3.3 acres when owners cluster development and preserve at least half of the site for agriculture. The TDR program allocates TDRs to sending area land based on the suitability of each property for development on septic systems: slight limitation 1 TDR/2.7 acres; moderate limitation 1 TDR per 6 acres; severe limitation 1 TDR per 50 acres. After adding a ten percent bonus allocation to increase motivation to use the TDR program, the Township calculated a total supply of 1,383.25 TDRs in the sending area. When averaged over the 7,472 acres of sending area land, the allocation adds up to roughly one TDR per five acres.

When owners choose to voluntarily record easements on this land, future development is limited to a maximum density of one dwelling unit per 50 acres. The easements are permanent. However, Chesterfield allows TDRs to be reattached to previously preserved sending sites if the holders of TDRs are unable to sell their TDRs and the planning board concludes that the TDRs are not likely to be purchased in the near-term future.   

The receiving area of Old York Village is zoned Planned Village Development and was designed with the expressed purpose of accommodating all of the TDRs from the 7,472 acres of farmland in the sending area. At build-out, Old York Village is planned to accommodate 1,200 residential units, of which 72 percent will be on lots ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 square feet in size. Another 20 percent will be triplexes and two percent apartments with 40,000 square feet of commercial floor area and an elementary school. 

In an unusual arrangement, TDR requirements apply to all private development in Old York with the exception of affordable housing units. The allowance rates are 1 TDR per detached perimeter village lot, 0.9 TDRs per detached village lot, 0.75 TDRs for a triplex dwelling lot, 0.5 TDRs for a condominium/apartment unit, no TDRs for low- and moderate income housing units (six percent of all units must be low-moderate income units), 1 TDR per 2,000 square feet of retail/office, 0.5 TDRs per home office, 1 TDR per acre of private institutional use (cemetery, private outdoor recreation), 1 TDR per 2,000 square feet of non-public institutional floor area (houses of worship and child care centers), and no TDRs for public buildings including public schools, libraries, and municipal facilities. 

Chesterfield uses the Burlington County Development Credit Bank to facilitate marketing and transfers. The Township and Burlington County each provide half of the capitalization for the bank’s activities in Chesterfield. The bank buys TDRs at prices established by the bank board taking into consideration the most recent private sales of TDR in arms-length transactions not involving the bank. To avoid competing with private sellers, the bank can only sell TDRs when a demonstrated demand exists that is not being met by the private market. The sales price for its TDRs can be set either by the bank board or by the sale of credits via sealed bids with the goal of maximizing the value of its TDRs.

Because the Chesterfield program eliminates the need for discretionary decisions, developers readily participated knowing that they would be able to complete their projects without delay, modifications, or additional last-minute costs. By 2007, over 90 percent of the units planned for Old York Village were either occupied, under construction or in the approval process. All residential and commercial development in Old York results in preserved farmland. The program has gained nationwide recognition as a model for combining smart growth and farmland preservation and won the American Planning Association’s Outstanding Planning Program Award.