Marion County, Florida

Marion County, population 258,916 (2000) is located in Central Florida, 50 miles northwest of Orlando, surrounding the county seat of Ocala. In December 2004, the County adopted several amendments to the Future Land Use Element creating a TDR program designed to protect farmland and other natural resources. In addition to the sending and receiving components, described below, this amendment requires the County to create a TDR tracking system. It mandates that by January 2007 and every five years thereafter, the County must evaluate the TDR program and assess the need for additional sending or receiving areas. And it requires the County to seek participation of the municipalities in a Countywide TDR program by January 2008.

Marion County changed its allocation ratio in 2007 and had saved almost 3,200 acres as of mid-2009.

The sending area is the Farmland Preservation Area located in the northeastern quadrant of the County. However, the County Commissioners can approve sending areas outside the Farmland Preservation Area that are identified as locally significant natural resources deserving of special protection as listed in Policy 1.2 of the Conservation Element:

  1. Surface waters of the State;
  2. Native vegetative communities, including forests;
  3. Commercially valuable mineral resources;
  4. Soils, including hydric soils, prime farmland, locally-important farmland and timberland;
  5. Good quality air;
  6. Good quality groundwater; and
  7. Fisheries, wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Sending sites must be at least 30 acres in size. When the County approves a sending site, the owner records a conservation easement on the property and receives three transferable development credits per ten acres. The landowner can sell these credits directly to a receiving site developer or to an intermediary.

Initially, sending site owners received three credits per ten acres preserved. In 2007, the County significantly increased the motivation for landowners to participate by granting one credit per every acre of sending area land preserved.

The receiving areas are lands near the City of Ocala with a Land Use designation of Urban Reserve. Lands with this designation are allowed to be developed at a density of one unit per ten acres without the use of TDR. But with TDR, developers can apply for projects with densities of up to one unit per acre when retiring one transferable credit per bonus dwelling unit.

The County facilitates participation by providing a sample conservation easement as well as applications on its web site.

In 2005, the County Commissioners approved the County’s first two TDR applications. Together, these transfers preserved 307 acres of farmland in return for approval of 90 bonus dwelling units in the receiving area. The sending area is on U.S. Highway 27, three miles southeast of the Levy County Line. The receiving area is at Southwest 60th Avenue and Southwest 21st Street.

Interest in the TDR program increased significantly following the allocation ratio change to one credit per preserved sending acre in November 2007. For example, Plum Creek Timber Company, owners of more than 11,000 acres in Marion County, preserved 1,958 acres under the TDR program. Roughly half of the preserved Plum Creek land is wetland, part of a larger tract at county roads 315 and 316 about half a mile from the Ocklawaha River, east of Fort McCoy. Plum Creek plans to hold the credits until the real estate market comes back. As of that transaction, Marion County had saved 3,198 acres with its TDR program, making it one of the more successful TDR programs in the United States.