The sending areas are specifically identified as wetlands, Cutthroatgrass seeps and xeric uplands but the Board of County Commissioners can determine that other areas are also worthy of protection based on environmental significance. The sending sites are typically designated Agriculture in the County Comprehensive Plan, a designation that allows on-site development at a density of one unit per five acres or one unit per ten acres within a wetland or floodplain overlay. Sending sites must be at least ten acres in size and are granted one TDR per five acres. Consequently the transfer ratio is two-to-one within a floodplain/wetland overlay or one-to-one if not within such an overlay. One TDR is deducted for each existing dwelling unit on a sending site. The sending area landowners who choose to participate must donate environmentally sensitive sending sites to the County in order to be issued development rights certificates.
Highlands County uses TDR to preserve environmentally-significant areas.
Sites proposed as receiving sites must be planned and zoned for urban residential uses, compatible with adjacent development and compliant with Florida requirements for infrastructure to be available concurrent with development. With TDR, receiving site developments may achieve the highest density allowed by the future land use designation for the proposed site. For example, the development code specifies that baseline density in the AU zone is one unit per five acres and that TDR may be used to achieve the maximum density shown on the future land use map. The County Commissioners, based on recommendations from staff, decide whether the highest density of the Comp Plan range or a lesser density will be allowed under the TDR option given specifics of the proposed development and its surroundings. Transfers of less than 20 units can be approved administratively. Transfers of 20 or more units must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners.
In April 2006, Duane Neiderman of the Highlands County Planning Department reported that the transfer option had been used once. In 1996, a development called The Cove was allowed to increase from four units to 21 units on a 40-acre receiving site. The 21 lots in the receiving site project were concentrated on 30 acres, providing roughly ten acres of on-site open space under conservation easement. The 170-acre sending site was also protected by a conservation easement. This action resulted in the transfer of 17 TDRs to the receiving site. (Due to code changes adopted after The Cove was approved, twice this number of TDRs would be transferred if this transfer occurred under the provisions in effect now, as described above.)