Lysander, New York

The Town of Lysander, population 19,285 (2000), is a suburb of Syracuse located in the northwest corner of Onondaga County in upstate New York. Despite being only 12 miles from downtown Syracuse, Lysander still retains substantial farmland as well as wetlands, stream corridors, wildlife habitat and other environmentally significant areas.

In 2006, New York Governor George Pataki announced that Lysander would receive an award of $1,007,700 to start buying TDRs and banking them in a TDR revolving fund for future resale. That marked the first time New York State’s Farmland Preservation Program funded a TDR program. According to one account, this seed money was expected to protect as many as 1,500 acres. In October 2008, Lysander adopted a TDR ordinance allowing the program to formally proceed. The ordinance states that the seed money from the state will fund the acquisition of TDRs that preserve as many as three farms.

Lysander’s TDR program is designed to preserve agriculture and open space in general and the Cold Springs Peninsula in particular. In an effort to balance sending and receiving areas within three subareas of the Town, the ordinance allows only intra-regional transfers within these regions: Cold Springs Peninsula, Seneca and West Phoenix.

To qualify as a sending area, land must have all seven of the following characteristics:

  • AR-40 zoning
  • Tillable acreage
  • Class 1, 2, 3 or 4 soils
  • Agricultural Taxing District.
  • Minimum of 11 acres
  • Actively farmed
  • Owned or leased by a farmer

Landowners interested in the program can submit a concept plan for a hypothetical subdivision of the property and be issued TDRs based on the underlying density permitted in the AR-40 zone, which has a 40,000-square foot minimum lot size requirement. Alternately, the landowner may choose to receive 0.75 TDRs per acre without submitting a concept plan.

Developers interested in creating receiving areas must meet all of the following five criteria.

  • AR-40 zoning
  • Lacking environmentally sensitive land such as wetlands and habitat
  • Within or contiguous to water district
  • Within or close to sewer district
  • Access to arterial road

With each TDR, developers can achieve one additional dwelling unit at the receiving site. With the addition of TDRs, receiving area density can increase to an average site density of 1.25 units per acre by using cluster subdivision or planned unit development provisions to deviate from the 40,000-square foot minimum lot size otherwise required in the AR-40 zone. However, in no event can receiving site lots be less than 20,000 square feet unless the site is served by public water, sewer and storm-water management systems.

The Lysander TDR ordinance includes provisions for private transactions, referred to as open market transfers, as well as purchases and sales conducted by the revolving fund, which, as mentioned above, was jumpstarted by a grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture. The revolving fund must sell TDRs in a public bidding process and the minimum bid must be the full market value of the TDR. In addition to buying and selling TDRs at auction, the revolving fund is charged with maintaining a development rights registry. The ordinance states that the Town of Lysander can decide to eliminate the revolving fund if any of the following three circumstances occurs: 1) the fund has more money than is needed to purchase the remaining TDRs in the sending area; 2) no request is made to purchase TDRs from the fund for a period of five years; or 3) all development rights in the sending area have been purchased. The Town can elect to continue the open market transfer mechanism regardless of whether or not the revolving fund is ultimately terminated.