Manheim Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Manheim Township, population 40,232 (2018), 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, R-2, and R-3 Residential Districts plus the T-Zone Overlays are established as the receiving areas.

Manheim Township allows severed TDRs to 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.

Sending sites are parcels in the Agricultural District of at least ten acres in size. The number of TDRs available for transfer is calculated by multiplying the total number of acres of unencumbered land subject to the Declaration of Restriction time 0.73.

Each TDR one bonus dwelling unit in qualified residential receiving sites. By using TDR, maximum density can go from 2,2 units per acre in the R-1, from 2.9 to 4.3 units per acre in the R-2 (or 7.0 units in a PRD), and from up to 5 units per acre in the two T-5 village overlays in the R-3 zone.

In addition to density, developers can use TDR to exceed baseline building heights in the R-3 zone. Specifically, one TDR is required for each dwelling unit above 35 feet in height when using conventional development provisions and one TDR is required for each dwelling unit above 40 feet in height developed under PRD provisions.

On qualified nonresidential or mixed-use receiving sites, one TDR allows 3,000 square feet of nonresidential floor area or one dwelling unit above the baseline height. In five zones, one TDR can permit 5,000 square feet of floor area beyond baseline building length.

In the master site planned development (Oregon Village Overlay), one TDR is needed for every three acres of master site planned development.

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. Receiving site owners can use TDRs to increase residential density or, in some zones, exceed building height and length baselines.

In the early years of the program, Jeffrey Butler, Manheim Township’s Director of Planning reported that 124 development rights were 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 used the proceeds of TDR to developers at auction as a revolving fund to buy and bank additional TDRs.

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. At the time of that award, the Trust acquired ten percent of a farm’s TDRs and Manheim Township itself purchased 90 percent. Both the Trust and the Township resold these TDRs and used the proceeds to make additional purchases.

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.  

A 2015 paper by Preston Hull reported that Manheim initially jumpstarted the program by buying and banking 242 TDRs. Developers found it easier to buy TDRs from the bank rather than deal directly with sending site owners; as a result, the private market originally intended by Manheim was slow to materialize. In total, Manheim purchased 377 TDRs for between $4,500 and $6,500 each before suspending bank purchases in 2006. According to Hull, when developers bought TDRs directly from farmland owners in 2015, the prices averaged from $10,000 to $12,000 per TDR and Manheim experienced 251 direct transfers between developers and farmers as of April 2015. By October 2020, 871 TDRs had been severed, preserving almost 1,200 acres of farmland.