Largo, Florida, population 84,948 (2019) is a coastal city in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. The original purpose of the City’s transfer of development rights program was to provide private property owners some compensation for preserving natural areas. In the 1990s, the City itself purchased land for open space and recreation and banked the development rights for the purpose of granting them to developers who incorporate affordable housing in their projects. In its 2009 Comprehensive Plan, Largo again promoted TDR as a means of preserving natural resources. The TDR section in the 2011 version of the Comprehensive Development Code has expanded the program to include non-residential as well as residential receiving site projects. The 2011 version of the code is described in the Process section below.
Largo’s TDR ordinance encourages the preservation of unique areas, open spaces, and environmentally sensitive land by encouraging the transfer of development rights from these sites and designating them as Preservation, Recreation/Open Space, and/or Water Drainage Feature land use areas. Sending areas can include any land with development rights as well as these natural resources. Consequently, development rights can be transferred from coastal high hazard areas and 100-year flood plains but cannot be transferred from coastal submerged lands because these submerged lands have no development rights to transfer. The residential density or non-residential intensity transferred cannot exceed the maximum density or intensity of the sending zone. Development rights are transferred via TDR certificates and applications for TDR certificates must be reviewed by the Planning Commission. Once all of the development rights have been transferred, the sending site must be designated Preservation.
Receiving sites must be determined as capable of accepting development rights based on the Comprehensive Plan and the Development Code. No development rights can be transferred to coastal high hazard areas or 100-year flood plains. The bonus density or intensity allowed on a receiving site is limited by the availability of municipal services based on a capacity to serve determination. The use of TDRs in receiving zones does not change the site’s land use designation and does not provide exceptions or relief from the requirements of the Comprehensive Plan or the Development Code.
In 1995, then Community Development Director Richard Goss explained that many of the potential sending sites are wetlands and floodplains that have no on-site development potential. Nevertheless, Largo allows the owners of these properties some development potential that can only be used via TDR. This suggests that the owners of sending sites in Largo’s preservation zones have a strong motivation to transfer development rights.
However, while sending site owners are motivated to sell TDRs, former Director Goss opined that receiving site owners had little reason to buy TDRs because of low demand for densities higher than those already allowed by the zoning code as a matter of right. Goss also stated that the development community in Largo initially avoided the TDR process partly because of the uncertainty inherent in the approval process.
Due to this developer reticence, TDRs were not used on receiving sites during the first decade of Largo’s program. The City accumulated development rights from properties it had either purchased or acquired through dedications. On two occasions, the City proposed to use its own TDR holdings to facilitate developments that implement City goals. One proposal involved a low-income housing development and the other would have created a handicapped-accessible housing development. In both instances, there was considerable opposition from receiving site neighborhoods and the proposals were dropped.
In a 2001 update, Goss reported that Largo TDRs had finally been approved for use on a receiving site. The sending site was a wetland that provides water retention for a road improvement. In addition to preserving the wetland, this transfer greatly reduced the cost of the roadway project since the Florida Department of Transportation only had to pay for the land minus its development potential rather than full market price.
Goss also reported that multiple-family residential developers were considering TDR as a way of facilitating the redevelopment of several vacant shopping centers. However, he questioned whether the density bonuses available through TDR offered adequate incentive to developers.