Falmouth, Massachusetts

The Town of Falmouth, population 31,531 (2010), is located at the southwest corner of Cape Cod. The Town adopted its first TDR ordinance in 1985. The program is designed to protect coastal ponds and groundwater recharge areas in an effort to protect water quality. In addition, it encourages the permanent protection of other important resource land that qualifies for tax relief when owners voluntarily agree to temporary development restrictions.


Sending areas in the Falmouth program are known as donor districts. Eligible donor sites include land within Water Resource Protection and Coastal Pond Overlay Districts. Any recorded building lot or any contiguous parcel of at least five acres is also eligible as a donor site if it qualifies for or is currently assessed under the provisions of a Massachusetts state law that allows tax relief to owners who place temporary development restrictions on their properties.

Donor lots must comply with the minimum requirements for a building permit or be determined potentially sub-dividable by the Planning Board given minimum zoning requirements, subdivision regulations and other pertinent code provisions. In order to sell their development rights, donor lot owners are required to record a covenant prohibiting the construction of any structure on the property.

Receiving districts consist of land currently zoned B3, B2, LIA, RC, RB, AGB, RA, AGA, RAA and AGAA. However, receiving sites cannot be located within a mapped Water Resource Protection District, a mapped coastal pond recharge area or an area that qualifies as a TDR donor district. Receiving sites must be at least five acres in size if located within the RA, RB, RC, AGA or AGB zones. Receiving areas in the AGAA or RAA zones must be at least 10 acres in size and receiving areas in the Business or LLA zones must be at least two acres in size. Town-owned land can serve as either donor or receiving sites if approved for that purpose by a two-thirds vote of the Town Meeting.

The Planning Board approves TDR transfers in conjunction with receiving subdivision and special permit applications. The density bonus allowed on receiving sites varies depending on the zoning of the donor site. For example, a receiving site zoned RB could receive 1.4 credits from a donor site zoned RC but 1.3 credits from a donor site zoned AGB. In approving a transfer, the Planning Board may also allow minimum frontage, lot width and area standards to be reduced.

Program Status

In January 2001, Town Planner Brian Currie reported that Falmouth had used its TDR provisions three times, preserving from 15 to 20 acres in the process. Most of the preserved lands have been water resource protection areas. For example, one transfer resulted in the preservation of nine acres of woods near Long Pond, which is the primary source of the Town’s drinking water. The receiving area for this transfer was a subdivision located two miles from the pond.