Mount Joy Township, Adams County, Pennsylvania

Mount Joy Township, population 3,232 (2000), lies immediately southeast of Gettysburg in south central Pennsylvania. Roughly 11,000 acres, or over 65 percent of the Township’s total land area, are considered farmland. Since the 1990s, the Township has experienced rapid growth, at one point achieving the distinction of having the fourth highest growth rate in Pennsylvania.

In 2001, the Township Supervisors established an Agricultural Land Preservation program funded by local tax dollars, making it the first township in Adams County to have its own purchase of development rights program. The Supervisors started the program with $200,000 and after six years of operation had preserved almost 900 acres of farmland using $1.7 million of local tax money. The Township’s goal is to preserve a total of 5,000 acres of farmland over 15 years through the Township program, the Adams County Agricultural Land Preservation Program and the work of the Land Conservancy of Adams County. The program got a vote of confidence in 2005 when the residents of Mount Joy approved a $2-million bond for this work.

In 2003, Mount Joy adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance designed generally to supplement these purchase of development rights programs and specifically to preserve important farmland and environmentally sensitive areas.

Sending sites must be at least ten acres in size and located within the AC, RR or SFR 1 districts. If the proposed sending site is zoned SFR 1, the applicant submits a yield plan depicting the number of new houses that could be developed under current codes and using on-site septic system systems supported by soil test results to demonstrate that the septic system assumptions are reasonable. In the RR district, the yield is assumed to be one unit per three acres. In the AC district, yield is determined via a separate process. When the Town accepts the number of rights available on a sending site, the owner may record an easement precluding some or all of these lots. The owner can initially preclude some lots and subsequently record additional easement(s) permanently precluding additional lots.

A transfer ratio of four-to-one is applied to development rights severed from land in the AC zone. For example, if an easement precludes five dwelling units on an AC sending site, these transferred rights allow 20 additional dwellings at a receiving site. However, in no event can more than one TDR be transferred for each 1.5 acres of preserved AC land.

Development rights may be sold directly to developers or to intermediaries including the Township, Adams County or non-profit conservation organizations. However, these intermediaries can hold TDRs no longer than ten years before being used on a receiving property.

Receiving sites must be within the SFR 1, MDR, V-H or V districts. In addition, land in the RR district can serve as a receiving site when density is transferred from the AC or RR district. Baseline density in the receiving area is the number of units that the site can support under current codes without use of TDR as determined by yield plans identical to those required for the sending sites.

In SFR 1 sites served by water and sewer, minimum lot size can be reduced to 15,000 square feet and minimum lot width reduced to 85 feet using TDR. For approved townhouses in the SFR 1, minimum lot area can be reduced to 3,000 square feet with a minimum lot width of 20 feet under the TDR option when water and sewer are provided. In MDR, V-H and V districts served by water and sewer, a minimum lots size of 8,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 60 feet can be achieved via TDR. In these zones, TDR allows maximum density for townhouses and garden apartments to increase to six units per acre. Sites zoned RR that are served by water and sewer can achieve a minimum lot area of 15,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 85 feet using TDR while sites not served by water and sewer can attain a minimum lot size of one acre and a minimum lot width of 150 feet using TDR. Manufactured home parks can achieve a maximum density of five units per acre using TDR.

According to an article by Meg Bernhardt retrieved from the web site of The Evening Sun on July 21, 2006, a developer was reported to want 800 acres worth of development rights prompting the owners of 664 acres of land to request a rezoning to the AC district, which carries the four-to-one transfer ratio. Some observers complained that developers were buying transferable rights for more money than the Township could pay through its PDR program. However the Township Supervisors continued to support the two programs as complementary. One Supervisor observed that the demand for TDRs was beneficial because it preserved more land at less cost to taxpayers.