Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights

Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights
Rick Pruetz, FAICP
Arje Press, September 2021
Paperback (209 pages) and Kindle 
Available through Amazon

Land use is essential to climate action. We need diverse, compact communities where people can meet their daily needs without a car. We need to preserve our farms, forests, and wetlands, as well as maximize their ability to sequester carbon. We need to secure the embedded energy in older buildings, safeguard our water, restore biodiversity, and adapt to the growing threat from wildfires, floods, and sea level rise. By accomplishing any one of these goals, we often receive many other benefits in addition to the mitigation of greenhouse gases and adaptation to the growing threats of climate change.

Transfer of development rights, or TDR, is a cost-effective way of steering growth away from places needed for climate action and into locations where development can be safely and efficiently accommodated. Unlike other preservation tools, TDR is primarily powered by private sector profits rather than taxation. In addition, jurisdictions themselves can engage in the TDR process to transform a limited investment into a perpetual revolving fund for preservation.

Smart Climate Action profiles 282 TDR programs and highlights how this market-based tool can and has been used to preserve greenbelts, forests, farms, wetlands, and landmarks as well as reduce vulnerability to wildfire, floods, sea level rise, and water scarcity. Developing a successful TDR program requires extensive community engagement and political will. However, the cost of using TDR for climate action remains much lower than the cost of inaction.

Lasting Value: Open Space Planning and Preservation Successes
Rick Pruetz, FAICP
Published by APA Planners Press, 2012
Paperback, 232 pages

“Every year, development claims more than a million acres of rural land. As open areas shrink, the water supply drops, wildfire risks rise, local food production falls, and infrastructure costs increase. Are these the inevitable side effects of progress? Some communities don’t think so. This book is about them. In 24 illustrated vignettes, Rick Pruetz, FAICP, explores settings from farmland on Long Island to Minneapolis’s Grand Rounds park system to the volcanic range near downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico. With a planner’s eye, he brings the achievements of these communities into focus. Lasting Value will inspire planners, commissioners, and citizens who want to preserve the green legacy in their own backyards.”

APA Planners Press

“Pruetz convincingly shows that successful planning is about planning for land preservation as well as development. The case studies of local government and private-sector land preservation are full of valuable lessons for planners who are looking to promote long-term sustainability in their communities. I look forward to using Lasting Value in my course on land preservation.”

Tom Daniels, Professor, University of Pennsylvania

“This book is a treasure, full of facts, carefully researched, and very readable. A must-read for anyone interested in learning how communities across the country have succeeded in institutionalizing the conservation ethic in their plans and ordinances.”

Randall Arendt, Author of Rural By Design

The TDR HandbookDesigning and Implementing Transfer of Development Rights Programs
Arthur C. Nelson, Rick Pruetz, and Doug Woodruff
Published by Island Press in Cooperation with the American Bar Association (2012)
Paperback and hardcover, 311 pages (Also in Ebook)

“Transfer of Development Rights” (TDR) programs allow local governments to put economic principles to work in encouraging good land use planning. TDR programs most often permit landowners to forfeit development rights in areas targeted for preservation and then sell those development rights to buyers who want to increase the density of development in areas designated as growth areas by local authorities.

Although TDR programs must conform to zoning laws, they provide market incentives that make them more equitable (and often more lucrative) for sellers and frequently benefit buyers by allowing them to receive prior approval for their high-density development plans. Since the 1970s when modern TDR applications were first conceived, more than 200 communities in 33 states across the U.S. have implemented TDR-based programs. The most common uses of TDR to date involve protecting farmland, environmentally sensitive land, historic sites rural character, and urban revitalization.

Until now, however, there has never been a clearly written, one-volume book on the subject. At last, The TDR Handbook provides a comprehensive guide to every aspect of TDR programs, from the thinking behind them to the nuts and bolts of implementation-including statutory guidance, model ordinances, suggestions for program administration, and comparisons with other types of preservation programs. In addition, six of its twenty chapters are devoted to case studies of all major uses to which TDR programs have been utilized to date, including recent urban revitalization projects that utilize TDR principles.”

Island Press

The TDR Handbook is thoroughly comprehensive, addressing virtually every conceivable issue about TDR. It provides copious examples and explanations of when to use TDR in short, readable chapters, particularly for urban redevelopment, which few sources have previously explained. It should be on the shelf of every public official, attorney, and planner dealing with preservation of open space, natural resources, and the built environment.”

David L. Callies, FAICP, Kudo Professor of Law, University of Hawaii, author of Regulating Paradise: Land Use Controls in Hawaii (2010)

The TDR Handbook will be the primary source on the topic for years to come. The authors provide detailed explanations of the strengths and weaknesses of transfer of development rights programs, illuminated by useful, insightful case studies with a range of applications from urban design and historic preservation to farmland protection and environmental management.”

Frederick Steiner, FASLA, Dean, University of Texas School of Architecture

“The authors have succeeded in making the tricky concepts of TDR understandable and accessible to readers ranging from the casually interested citizen to experienced planners and practitioners of TDR, to elected policymakers. Especially worthwhile is the thorough review and analysis of the demand and supply dynamics of TDR economics – a most important ingredient to creating effective markets in transferable development rights.”

Darren Greve, manager of King County, Washington’s TDR program


Transfer of Development Rights Turns 40


Supplemental Handout
Is Your Community TDR-Ready?


TDR-Less TDR Revisited:
Transfer of Development Rights Innovations
and Gunnison County’s Residential Density Transfer Program