Mesa County, Colorado

Mesa County, population 146,723 (2010), lies in western Colorado and shares a border with the State of Utah. The Colorado River flows through Mesa County in The Grand Valley, which is agriculturally productive, particularly for grapes, peaches and other fruit. Much of the County’s land area is in various public uses including the Colorado National Monument, Grand Mesa National Forest and Uncompahgre National Forest.

The County has an active purchase of development rights program funded by grants from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). In 1997, the County began discussing a TDC program. However, as reported by Keith Fife, Director of Mesa County’s Long Range Planning Division, there were concerns about a TDR program that would require land to be preserved in perpetuity. In May 1999, the County adopted a Development Code that allowed sending site owners to sell TDCs as an incentive to deed restrict agricultural land, forests and environmentally sensitive areas for at least 40 years. The TDR provisions were amended several times since the original 1999 provisions, which were never used. The rest of this profile uses the code provisions in the Land Development Code in effect in November 2011.


The Mesa County TDR program, established by Section 9.8 of the Land Development Code, offers an alternative to the subdivision of rural land and encourages the concentration of future growth in places served by adequate infrastructure.

Sending sites must be at least 10 acres in size in the AFT and AF 35 zoning districts or at least 5 acres in the Urban Residential, Commercial and Industrial zoning districts. Land within the 100-year floodway cannot be counted toward the minimum acreage requirement. The code allows “Special Sending Areas” that must meet eligibility criteria using a scoring process; TDRs from special sending areas are eligible to be transferred to designated receiving areas subject to limitations on the number of credits that may be transferred to given receiving areas such as the Clifton/Fruitvale, Mack and Whitewater programs discussed below.

Sending site owners can choose to restrict development on some or all of a qualified property using a perpetual easement. Once the easement is recorded, future development of the sending site, if any, must be conducted under the cluster development provisions of the code.

Receiving areas are designated on the TDR/C Receiving Area Map. As detailed below, some of these receiving areas are within incorporated cities, such as Fruita, and others are in rural communities under Mesa County jurisdiction such as Mack, Clifton/Fruitvale and Whitewater.

  • Fruita – The City of Fruita is the only municipality in Mesa County, (out of five cities), to allow inter-jurisdictional transfers at this point although the Mesa County TDR ordinance provides for additional incorporated municipalities to create receiving areas and inter-jurisdictional programs subject to the terms of future intergovernmental agreements. (The Fruita program is also discussed in a separate profile.) TDR transactions here are controlled by an agreement between the City of Fruita and Mesa County. Mesa County agrees not to process a development application for a receiving site that is under Mesa County jurisdiction but designated as a Fruita receiving site unless the landowner has declined the TDR option or the City of Fruita has denied or revoked the landowner’s annexation petition. TDRs used on Fruita receiving sites must come from sending sites identified for the Fruita/Mesa County TDR program.
  • Mack – Mack is an unincorporated community under Mesa County jurisdiction. Sending areas are lands subject to various rural zoning in an area known as the Lower Valley as depicted in the Mesa County Rural Master Plan north of the Colorado River. In the Mack receiving areas, developments using TDR can exceed density baselines and achieve Tier 1 development levels.
  • Clifton/Fruitvale – The primary sending area here is land in the Palisade Community Separator. Each TDR credit issued in this separator is worth 8 dwelling units in the Clifton/Fruitvale receiving area. The receiving areas are lands with land use classifications of Residential Medium Low, Residential Medium or Mixed Use. Baseline in these receiving areas is the minimum end of the density range in these land use classifications and TDR allows the maximum density of each classification. This receiving area also accepts a limited number of TDR credits from special sending areas.
  • Whitewater – In this receiving area, baseline density is one lot per 35 acres. By using TDR, developments can achieve densities of up to one unit per one-half acre. The primary sending area is large lot residential in the Whitewater/Kannah Creek area. Each TDR credit issued in this sending area allows 7 bonus dwelling units in the Whitewater Receiving Area. Up to 120 units can also be transferred from special sending areas.

Program Status

In 2007, Keith Fife, Mesa County’s Long Range Planning Division Director, reported that the amended TDR program had issued 10 credits, preserving 50 acres in the Fruita sending area.