Northbrook, population 33,170 (2010), is located 20 miles north of Chicago, Illinois. The Village annexed a 700-acre parcel which contains a landfill that is no longer used. Northbrook’s code allows development to occur throughout the 700-acre area. However, development cannot occur on top of the abandoned landfill for another 30 years or so. Furthermore, land immediately adjacent to the landfill is undesirable for many kinds of development due to the ongoing release of methane gas. Consequently, the most appropriate locations for new development at this time are those portions of the tract that are furthest from the closed landfill. To allow property owners flexibility in locating development, the Village created a TDR program that provides for development right transfers within this 700-acre zone, known as the Techny Overlay District.
In September 2011, the Village’s zoning code section addressing the Techny Overlay District remained unchanged from the section used in 2003 to prepare the profile for Beyond Takings and Givings. Consequently, the following Process section duplicates the description found in that book.
There are three zoning districts within the Techny Overlay District. For each of these zones, the Northbrook code sets forth development requirements, including two sets of maximum density limits. One set establishes the lower density limits which apply if TDR is not being used; these lower density limits also serve to calculate the amount of density that can be transferred off of a sending site. The other set of density limits establishes the higher floor area ratio maximums which apply to the receiving sites for transfers of development rights. In one of the three zones, the density allowed through TDR increases from a floor area ratio (FAR) of 0.40 to 0.45. However, in another of these zones, the density allowed due to TDR doubles, from FAR 0.20 to FAR 0.40. And in the third zone, the density achievable with TDR more than triples, from FAR 0.20 to 0.75.
Any parcel within the Techny Overlay District can potentially be either a sending or receiving site. The property owner requests authorization to transfer development rights by submitting an application to the Village Manager. The Village Manager must approve or deny the application within 30 days. The Village Manager can only deny the application if it violates the provisions of the TDR ordinance. If the transfer is approved, a restrictive covenant is recorded on the sending site to permanently reduce the site’s development potential by the amount of development rights transferred.
Under the Northbrook TDR ordinance, it is not necessary to identify the receiving site at the time that development rights are severed from the sending site; development rights may be severed from a sending site and reserved for future transfer to a receiving site.
There are several positive features of the Northbrook TDR program. The difficulties of developing land near a landfill provide an incentive for property owners to transfer development rights to more suitable locations. On the other end of the transfer, the ability to greatly increase density on receiving sites supplies a strong motivation to use the program; it is particularly important that this increase in density is available only by using TDR. And, finally, by making the approval process fast and administrative, Northbrook has removed developers’ fears of time-consuming debate and the uncertainty that accompanies a discretionary decision process.
Nevertheless, since the start of Northbrook’s TDR program in 1988, only one transfer has taken place. In this transfer, 1.5 million square feet of development rights were transferred to allow additional density at an office park on a receiving site. In 1994, Thomas R. Poupard, Northbrook Village Planner, cautioned that the relatively low rate of transfers could merely reflect the fact that the demand for new office development had been low. In September 2011, David Schoon, Assistant Director of the Department of Building, Development & Planning reported that no transfers occurred after the program’s early years.