Manheim Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Manheim Township, population 36,718 (2010), lies within Lancaster County, 75 miles west of Philadelphia. Throughout the late 1990s, the Township experienced substantial development on prime agricultural land. To deal with this loss, the Township adopted an agricultural land preservation program in 1990. Under this program, major portions of the Township were rezoned from a residential zone allowing almost three dwelling units per acre to an Agriculture Zoning District which allows one unit per 20 acres. As compensation for that reduction in development potential, the Township, in 1991, introduced a transfer of development rights program.

Manheim Township used TDR to save this 49-acre farm on the National Register of Historic Places with a classic stone-end barn.

The Kissell Hill TDR receiving area is buffered from older developments and many of the homes there incorporate traditional building materials to promote compatibility.


The TDR section of the Manheim Township Zoning Ordinance is designed to preserve prime agricultural soils and the agricultural character of the land by shifting development from sending areas to receiving areas. The Agricultural District is established as the sending area and the R-1 and R-2 Residential Districts are established as the receiving areas. In addition to preserving agriculture on the sending sites, Manheim Township wants to improve the quality of development on the receiving sites by promoting innovative design techniques.

Manheim Township refers to development rights as a separate estate in land which may be transferred immediately to a receiving site or held by a purchaser for future use or sale. The price of the development rights is determined by willing buyers and sellers. The Township itself can purchase development rights and accept rights as gifts; these development rights may be retired or sold by the Township. When development rights have been severed, a deed restriction is placed on the sending site allowing only agricultural uses. This deed restriction, called a Declaration of Restriction, designates the Township as a third party beneficiary.

When development rights are transferred to receiving sites in the R-1 and R-2 zones, the code permits the density of the receiving site to increase beyond the density allowed by the underlying zoning. In addition, some portions of the R-1 and R-2 zones have been designated as Density Bonus Overlay areas; within these areas, projects which incorporate transferred development rights are allowed a substantial increase in density. Specifically, in one zone, a base density of 1.6 units per acre can be increased to 2.2 units per acre through TDR and to 2.9 units per acre in the areas designated for bonus density. In the other receiving zone, the base density of 2.0 units per acre can be increased to 2.9 units per acre by TDR and to 4.3 units per acre in bonus density areas, a density bonus of 115 percent. When transferring to the bonus density areas, development must use clustering techniques and preserve at least 30 percent of the receiving site in open space.

The TDR section of the Manheim Zoning Ordinance states that landowners, developers or holders of development rights will have no damage claims should the Township decide to abolish or change the program in any number of ways. The section also requires the zoning officer to determine the number of development rights which can be severed based on various criteria. For example, sending sites must be at least ten acres in size. Furthermore, land used for non-agricultural purposes or already precluded from development by easements is not eligible for transfer of development rights. The amount of land determined to be eligible by these criteria is multiplied by 0.73 to calculate the number of development rights available for transfer.

To determine the base density of the property to be developed, the applicant must submit a preliminary subdivision plan prepared in compliance with the Manheim Subdivision/Land Development Ordinance. When development rights are severed from the sending site, they are conveyed by means of a Deed of Transferable Development Rights. The Deed of Transferable Development Rights is accompanied by a Declaration of Restriction of Development. One additional dwelling unit may be built on a receiving site for each development right transferred from a sending site. The transfer is approved through the Town’s subdivision/land development approval process.

To encourage innovative design on receiving sites, Manheim Township allows modifications of certain development requirements through the conditional use permit process. The innovations listed in the code include off-center home placement, zero lot line dwellings, patio homes and other housing types. Five special standards are used to evaluate these CUPs.

Program Status

The Manheim Township program has the ingredients to motivate transfers. Owners of sending sites can only achieve a density of one unit per 20 acres on site; conversely, those owners can transfer development rights to receiving sites at a density of 0.73 units per acre, representing a substantial transfer ratio of 14.6:1. Similarly, receiving site owners are motivated to buy development rights by the ability to more than double base zoning density in some areas. In addition, the ability to sell, buy and hold development rights increases flexibility for landowners and developers.

In the early years of the program, Jeffrey Butler, Manheim Township’s Director of Planning reported that 124 development rights had been severed, preserving approximately 170 acres. Most of these severed rights were purchased by the Township itself using general fund money and contributions from developers. The Township creates a revolving fund with money provided by TDR sales. The Town solicited bids for the purchase of these rights and one developer bid on purchasing about 40 rights.

Since then, the Lancaster Farmland Trust has awarded Manheim Township with its Amos Funk Spirit of Cooperation Award for preserving farmland through TDR. The Trust and Manheim Township have cooperated in the preservation of four farms with a combined acreage of 300 acres. Typically the Trust acquires ten percent of a farm’s TDRs and Manheim Township itself purchases 90 percent. Both the Trust and the Township resell the TDRs. Manheim has conducted two auctions of TDRs in its TDR bank and uses the proceeds as a revolving fund to make additional purchases. At these two auctions, the Township sold 44 TDRs, which were used in two residential receiving area developments. A notice on the Trust’s award details one TDR transaction that saved a 49-acre farm on the National Register of Historic Places with a “spectacular stone-end bank barn.”

In its study of TDR programs in Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Conservancy notes that Manheim Township astutely minimized the potential for NIMBYism in its TDR program by designating Kissell Hill as a receiving area, which is bordered by various non-residential uses including an electrical sub-station.


Manheim Township website:

Transfer of Development Rights: A Flexible Option for Redirecting Growth in Pennsylvania, Brandywine Conservancy (2003).