Hadley, Massachusetts

The Town of Hadley, population 5,250 (2010), lies in Hampshire County in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts on the east side of the Connecticut River roughly 5 miles west of Amherst and 80 miles west of Boston. Hadley, which was settled in 1659 and incorporated in 1661, is rich with historic resources and retains much of its rural beauty and character.

In 2000, Hadley adopted a Farmland Preservation Bylaw that includes a TDR mechanism. The bylaw aims to protect farmland, offer fair economic return to farmland owners and promote compact development in areas served by public infrastructure.

Sending areas include parcels at least five acres in size within the Agricultural/Residential Zone, also known as the Farmland Preservation District. Owners of qualifying sending sites may transfer some or all of their development rights. However, when only a portion of the site is protected by easement, the tax parcel is subdivided and the conservation easement must be placed first on the most productive and developable farmland.

Development rights can only be granted for farmland that is developable, meaning enrolled in the Massachusetts agricultural lands assessment program, covered by soils in capability classes I – IV and not wetland unless public sewer is immediately available. (The definition allows 50 percent of wetlands to be counted as developable with or without the availability of sewer and it allows landowners to submit percolation tests to demonstrate that their hydric soils should be counted as developable.) The acreage of developable land is reduced by 5 percent to account for hypothetical roads and the owner is granted one TDR for each acre placed under permanent conservation easement.

Restrictions placed on sending sites are permanent unless the site is no longer deemed suitable for agricultural and this conclusion is affirmed by a two-thirds vote of both branches of the Massachusetts general court. The landowner must buy back the development rights at their then fair market value.

Receiving sites consist of all lots within the Business and Industrial Zones with frontage of Route 9, Mill Valley Road or North Maple Street.  For each TDR (representing one acre of developable farmland under easement) a receiving area developer can build 2,000 square feet of additional commercial or industrial floor area plus a reduced parking requirement of 20 spaces. (Baseline parking requirements are two square feet of off-street parking for each square foot of commercial/industrial floor area; even with the use of TDR, this ratio cannot go lower than 1.5 square feet of parking area per square foot of floor area.) The Planning Board can also allow maximum lot coverage to exceed baseline 30 percent and reach a maximum of 70 percent via TDR.

Receiving area developers can choose to comply using actual TDRs or by paying a cash contribution which Hadley then uses to buy agricultural easements. The payment is the per-acre cost of actual farmland easements over the last three years, as determined by the Conservation Commission, multiplied by the number of acres needed to satisfy the TDR requirements.

The Planning Board considers the application under the special permit procedures which require the architecture of the proposed receiving site project to be compatible with the historic character of Hadley. Any transactions must be reported to Hadley within ten days. Every other year, the Planning Board conducts a review of the TDR program and submits recommendations to the Town for any necessary changes.

Hadley has a rate of development regulation. For smaller properties, no more than one dwelling unit can be built per year. For projects large enough to allow ten or more future houses, no more than ten percent of the total potential houses can be built per year. The TDR provisions state that these limitations do not affect the rate of transfer of TDRs from a sending site. In other words, there is no limit on the number of TDRs that a sending site could transfer in any given year as opposed to development of actual houses on these sending sites, which world be limited by Hadley’s rate of development restrictions.

According to a 2010 study, as of 2006 the Hadley TDR program had generated $338,772 for the Land Preservation Fund, which was used to leverage state funds to protect 163 acres of farmland.