Exeter, Rhode Island

The Town of Exeter, population 6,561 (2018), lies roughly 15 miles southwest of Providence, Rhode Island. The Exeter zoning code includes two separate TDR mechanisms designed to preserve farmland and open space. 

In 2010, Exeter adopted an interjurisdictional transfer ordinance that aims to preserve farmland and open space. The ordinance specifies a ten-acre parcel known as Bald Hill that serves as a gateway between Exeter and the adjacent Town of North Kingston. This sending site lies in the Town of Exeter but the receiving area is located in North Kingston. The process begins when a landowner submits an application for a master plan of the sending site including a draft deed restriction that complies with North Kingston’s TDR code. The Exeter Planning Board determines the number of dwelling units that could reasonably be developed on the sending site and issues a letter of yield certification. North Kingston has discretion to accept or reject TDRs from Exeter. If acceptable, the deed restrictions are recorded and the North Kingston Planning Director issues development rights certificates to the applicant. The receiving area is identified in the North Kingston code and the process is described in the profile of the North Kingston TDR program.

In 2012, Exeter adopted a Planned Village Development ordinance aimed at creating a compact, mixed-use, walkable, New England-style village with open space preservation achieved via TDR. Developers could use these regulations by applying for establishment of a Planned Village Overlay District (PVOD) and adoption of a Planned Village Development Master Plan. The code section on Transfer of Development Rights, requires TDR to be used wherever PVOD would increase residential development beyond the maximum allowed by the underlying zoning. 

Under the PVOD code, sending areas are vacant or agricultural lots within the B, RE-2, RU-3, RU-4 and CR5 districts. The receiving sites are to be located within approved PVODs. The baseline is the density allowed by the underling zoning; maximum density with TDR cannot exceed 15 units per acre on an individual lot or 8 units per acre on average for the entire PVOD.

Section 6.9 goes into greater detail about PVD sending sites. Applicants must submit a yield plan calculating the total number of detached single family dwelling units permitted by zoning. Upon approval of a master plan for the sending area, the planning board authorizes issuance of a certificate of development rights once the necessary deed restrictions have been recorded. 

Per 6.9.3, certified development rights have different capabilities to produce density bonuses in receiving areas. The different capacity or value of a TDR depends on its score as established by a point system evaluating the sending site in eight categories:

  1. Location: Sending sites can achieve between 5 and 20 points based on whether the sending site is more than ½ mile from the receiving area (5 points) or directly adjacent (20 points). 
  2. Development Pressure: Up to 20 points can be awarded for development pressure. 
  3. Farmland: From 5 to 20 points can be awarded to farmland, with the maximum 20 points given to working farms with over 25 acres of prime soils. 
  4. Drinking Water Supply Protection: Up to 20 points can be awarded for location within a Groundwater Protection Overlay. 
  5. Green Corridor: Up to 20 points can be given to lands within a designated green corridor.
  6. Development Suitability: Up to 20 points when more than 90 percent of parcel is suitable for development.
  7. Natural Resources: Up to 20 points for parcels with habitat for rare species.
  8. Other: Up to 20 points for parcels with a scenic view, historic site or recreational opportunity.

Per Table 6.9.3B, the amount of bonus development on a receiving site depends on the TDR’s total score and the housing type proposed at the receiving site. For example, one TDR from a sending site with a score of 20 to 50 allows 1.2 bonus single-family units, 1.5 townhouse units or 2.0 multi-family units. One TDR from a sending site with 85 or more points allows 1.7 bonus single-family units, 2.5 townhouse units or 3.0 multi-family units.     

Per 6.9.5, sending sites must be preserved by conservation easement and controlled by a management plan. The sending sites can remain in private ownership or be conveyed to the town, a non-profit organization or stewardship trust. This section does not provide for differences in the number of TDRs issued regardless of the final ownership of the sending site.

Per 6.10, allows receiving site developers to apply for bonus density by fee-in-lieu. To establish the fee, the applicant pays for an appraisal of property (not easement value) in a residential district considered by the planning board to be most consistent with their preservation goals. This appraised value is divided by the number of development rights available to the appraised site to determine the per-TDR value. The planning board determines the total in lieu fee no later than preliminary plan approval. The applicant must pay the fee according to a schedule that generally reflects the revenue gained by the developer for the sale of lots or housing units. The town restricts in lieu revenue to the purchase of land or easements for farmland or open space preservation or to a land preservation trust fund.