Lumberton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey

(Profiled 2-23-21)

Lumberton Township, population 12,205 (2018), is located 25 miles east of Philadelphia and 40 miles west of the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The township’s first TDR program was a success, largely because of an administrative approval process made possible by comprehensive requirements that assured compatible receiving site projects without the delay, modifications and costs often generated by procedures involving discretionary decisions. 

The State of New Jersey adopted the Burlington County TDR Demonstration Act in 1989 in order to test the feasibility of this preservation tool. Lumberton Township became the first jurisdiction to use this act by adopting a program in 1995 known as TDR I. The program aimed to conserve agriculture and other rural resources. The mapped 1,513-acre sending area was land designated as Rural Agriculture TDR Sending Area (RA/S) in western Lumberton Township. Sending sites had to be six or more acres in size and assessed as farmland.

The TDR allocation was based on the maximum density allowed by zoning, which was one unit per two acres, plus any reductions caused by environmental constraints, which essentially meant suitability for on site septic systems. The exact formula was the number of acres of slightly-constrained soils divided by 2, plus the number of acres of moderately-constrained soils divided by four, plus the number of acres of severely-constrained soils divided by six, multiplied by 1.1 equals the number of TDR available to the sending site. Fractional results were rounded down and one TDR was subtracted per existing dwelling unit. 

Property owners could appeal their credit allocation using either a new soils survey or by submitting a subdivision plan with soil borings indicating that the site had more development potential than the formula-based allocation. However, TDR credit allocations could not be contested after the owner had recorded a conservation easement on the property. 

The TDR easement restricted further development of the sending site to one unit per 50 acres. The Lumberton code had an elaborate procedure allowed credits to be reattached to a sending site in the event that the owner was unable to sell the TDRs or for “good and sufficient reasons the public interest would be served by allowing relief from the restrictions imposed by the TDR program.”    

The receiving area included 508 acres of land mapped as receiving area in the township master plan. In 1999, the receiving areas and density bonus allowances were changed to the following. 1) One TDR allowed one additional single-family detached unit in the RA/R-1, RA/R-3, and RA/R-5 zones. 2) One age-restricted, attached unit in the RA/R-4 zone was allowed per 0.6 credit. 3) One age-restricted, attached unit in the RA/R-6 zone was allowed per 0.7 credit. The maximum density allowed with TDR ranged from one unit per acre to five units per acre depending on the zoning of the receiving site. 

Significantly, the use of TDR was granted administratively as long as the receiving site project adhered to all development requirements, including 35 pages of standards and guidelines found within the TDR code section itself addressing the retention of natural elements and cultural features, as well as the provision of stormwater management facilities, public utilities, and landscaping, Since the receiving area was adjacent to the Historic District of Lumberton Village, the TDR code also required new buildings to be compatible in scale with existing structures and reflect the architectural styles of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries including the Colonial, Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian styles. To emphasize this requirement, the TDR code incorporated 17 pages of architectural standards regarding façade treatment, building materials, fenestration, rooflines, fences, and open space. While this level of detail is unusual in a TDR code, it may also explain why Lumberton was able to approve receiving site projects without the discretionary review that can cause the delay, redesign, and added costs that sometimes discourage developers from choosing the TDR option.

In 2000, Lumberton adopted a TDR II program that added 1,355 acres of sending area and 185 acres of receiving acres. The receiving area zoning for TDR II, RA/R6, allowed one extra age-restricted dwelling unit per TDR. Property owners and developers declined to participate in the new program and TDR II languished. In 2018, all TDR provisions were removed from the code. However, by that time, TDR had succeeded in preserving 850 acres of farmland in Lumberton.