London Grove, population 7,475 (2010), is a 15-square-mile township located in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 35 miles west of Philadelphia and 16 miles northwest of Wilmington, Delaware. The Township retains considerable agricultural and is known as the “Mushroom Capital of the World”. In the 1990s, London Grove was looking for ways to preserve its unique agricultural character despite its proximity to the East Coast megalopolis. Like another Chester County township, East Nantmeal, London Grove adopted a new zoning code in 1995 designed to protect agriculture by rezoning farmland from one unit per acre to one unit per ten acres.
London Grove farmers generally supported the rezoning to lower densities. According to the Township’s planning consultant, Wayne Grafton, this support stemed partly from the fact that London Grove farmers tended to recognize the value of retaining the Township’s farmland for the production of high-value crops.
However, London Grove also sought to soften the impact of this downzoning by allowing development rights in the Agricultural Preservation district to be transferred at the rate of one development right per 1.5 acres. In fact, the 1995 TDR ordinance stated that the transfer option was designed to avoid economic hardships for the owners of land in this district and to provide an equitable way to compensate these landowners for development restrictions. The 1995 ordinance was amended in 2006 and 2007. The following section discusses the provisions that appeared in the code in November 2011.
The London Grove TDR provisions, appearing in Sections 27-501 through 27-508 of the zoning code, aim to preserve agricultural land, open space, sensitive natural areas and rural community character including prime farmland, steam valleys with associated wetlands and floodplains and historic, scenic and cultural resources.
Sending sites must be at least 10 acres in size, zoned Agricultural Preservation (AP) or Residential Rural (RR) and contain prime farmland, mature woodlands, steam valleys or historic, scenic or cultural resources. TDR allocation is calculated by deducting land associated with existing dwellings. Then this net acreage is multiplied by 0.625 in the AP zone and 1.15 in the RR zone. When sending area landowners choose to participate, they record a permanent conservation as well as a conservation plan setting forth the management and agricultural techniques used to perpetually protect the restricted areas. Sending areas can also be acquired by the Township and may then be used for recreational purposes consistent with the Township’s conservation goals. Owners have the option of transferring only some of a sending site’s development rights but the easement must, to the greatest extent possible, preserve those portions of the sending site with the greatest concentration of critical resources.
Receiving sites must be at least 3 acres in size and zoned Residential High (RH), Residential Medium (RM) or Residential Mobile Home (MH). The additional dwelling units allowed by TDR vary depending on the zoning of the receiving site and whether the TDRs come from sending sites zoned RR or AP. For example in the RM zone, projects using TDR can exceed baseline by 1 dwelling unit transferred from a sending site zoned RR but up to 10 bonus units for TDRs transferred from the AP zone. The code also allows receiving site developments to exceed baseline by 1,000 square feet of floor area using TDRs from sending sites zoned AP but only 500 square feet using TDRs from sending sites zoned RR. The London Grove code allows reductions in area and bulk requirements for receiving site projects using TDR.
The ordinance allows London Grove to buy TDRs or acquire them when landowners donate their properties to the Township. The Township can either resell these rights or retire them.
In a January 2001 update, planning consultant Wayne Grafton reported that no transfers had occurred under the 1995 ordinance as of that date and that the Township was working on the TDR ordinance amendments that were ultimately adopted in 2006 and 2007.