Dane County, Wisconsin

Dane County, population 482,705 (2008), lies in south central Wisconsin, surrounding the City of Madison, the State Capital and home of the massive University of Wisconsin campus. Madison is often listed in magazines as one of best places in the country to live. Part of its appeal comes from the farms, woodlands, lakes and streams in Dane County townships.

Dane County adopted a TDR program designed to preserve natural resources, open space and agricultural land, like this farm in the Town of Dunn.

The County has adopted several measures to preserve its natural heritage.

In 1990, Dane County launched a Conservation Fund Grant Program which acquired $22-million worth of land by the year 2000 using County appropriations and the cooperation of philanthropic landowners, the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson State Stewardship Program, the Dane County Natural Heritage Foundation and the Ice Age Park and Trail Foundation. Based on that success, Dane County voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory referendum in 1999 for an accelerated program using an additional $30 million of funding.

In 2006, the Dane County Board of Supervisors adopted a TDR program but the towns did not approve it. In making a second attempt, the Board worked with the Dane County Towns Association to resolve the original concerns. In February 2010, the Board adopted a second TDR ordinance which gives towns the choice of whether or not to participate. The program is intended to reduce sprawl and protect farmland, natural resources, open space and rural land in general

Towns that choose to participate create sending areas in the form of TDR-S, or Transfer of Development Rights Sending Area Overlay District. These overlay districts can occur in areas indicated in adopted towns and county comprehensive plans as suitable for agriculture, conservation and natural resource use with limited or no potential for non-agricultural development. Within a TDR-S overlay, parcels are qualified to send TDRs if they meet the minimum lot size requirements of the underlying district. Owners of these qualified parcels record acceptable easements on these properties and receive one TDR for each potential residential building site precluded. “For the purposes of participating in a transfer of development rights program, a development right exists on a particular property if adopted town and county comprehensive plans would support a rezone petition to allow residential development on the property under s. 10.255 or this ordinance and ss.59.69 and 91.48, Wis. Stats.” Each town establishes its own procedure for a transfer ratio, meaning the number of additional building sites allowed at a receiving site per TDR.

The receiving areas are created when the townships adopt TDR-R overlay districts on land less suitable for agriculture and other resources where compact development is consistent with the goals of adopted plans. However, towns cannot create TDR-R districts within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of an incorporated municipality unless the proposed development is consistent with the adopted plans of both the township and the municipality.

TDR-R sites can accept only TDR transferred from sending sites in the same town unless inter-town transfers are expressly authorized in the adopted town and county plans for both the sending and receiving towns. The approval of additional density in a TDR-R through a conditional use permit requires the use of TDRs from a sending site unless the additional units are in community or dependency living arrangements, extended care facilities or nursing homes.

According to Meghann Olson*, the Dane County Towns Association believes the 2010 ordinance corrects three problems that towns had with the 2006 ordinance. The program allows towns to voluntarily decide whether or not to participate. They can also choose to designate sending and receiving areas or adopt criteria allowing transfers to occur based on compliance with those criteria. In the second significant change, landowners cannot transfer TDRs out or a town without the town’s approval. Thirdly, the 2010 ordinance eliminates minimum sending and receiving site size requirements contained in the 2006 ordinance.

* Olson, Meghann, “County works with towns to approve TDR”, Thistle E-new, retrieved on 2-12-10 from http://mcfarlandthistleonline.com.