Queen Anne’s County, Maryland

(Profiled 2-1-21)

Queen Anne’s County, population 50,381 (2019), lies on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay approximately 70 miles east of Washington, D.C. and 70 miles southwest of Wilmington, Delaware. The county is mainly composed of farms and wooded areas dotted with small towns and exurban residences.

In 1987, Queen Anne’s County adopted a new comprehensive plan implemented by zoning that limited rural land to an onsite density of one unit per ten acres or one unit per eight acres if development was clustered on to 15 percent of the property. The code also introduced a TDR program allowing TDRs to be transferred from sending sites zoned AG or Countryside (CS) to receiving sites zoned AG, CS, or Suburban Estate (SE), thereby allowing these sites to achieve a maximum density of one unit per nine acres. Between 1987 and 1994, brisk activity in this program was largely attributed to the fact that properties in the AG district could become receiving as well as sending sites.

Another program known as Non-Contiguous Development (NCD) was adopted in 1987. It allowed non-contiguous properties in the AG and CS zones to be treated as a single development for the purpose of transferring density between sending and receiving sites in the same zoning district. The NCD mechanism allowed receiving site densities as high as one unit per acre and motivated the cross-county transfer of TDRs from the relatively remote northeastern corner of Queen Anne’s County to receiving areas near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge where growth pressure is higher due to access to Annapolis and Washington, D.C. (McConnell, Walls & Kelly 2007).   

In 1994, the receiving area for the TDR program was limited to designated Growth Areas, a change that reduced transfers under that program because the potential receiving area shrunk from 209,000 acres to 6,400 acres and because the baseline densities in the Growth Areas were higher than market demand. Even though the 1994 amendments to the TDR program created potential commercial receiving sites, developers reportedly found the intensity bonus with TDR too small to spend the time and effort needed to navigate the TDR process (McConnell, Walls & Kelly 2007).      

In 2004, Queen Anne’s County added Critical Areas, an overlay zoning district with an onsite density limit of one unit per 20 acres, as sending areas in the TDR program. The receiving areas could also be located in the Critical Area overlay, with individual densities reaching one unit per five acres as long as the overall density of the Resource Conservation Area did not exceed one unit per 20 acres. Critical Area TDRs were in high demand because they could boost density in the desirable waterfront properties zoned Critical Area Overlay. The value of Critical Area TDR started at $35,000 each but rose as high as $265,000 each by 2005 as supply dwindled. By 2005, the TDR and NCD programs had protected almost 10,000 acres. A 2007 study concluded that Queen Anne’s County’s programs demonstrate that rural receiving areas can create substantial demand for the additional density provided by TDR (McConnell, Walls & Kelly 2007).  

As of January 2021, the county’s TDR code, Article XX Section 18:1-100 – 107, states that sending areas outside the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area must be at least 24 acres in size and meet specific criteria for soil and/or woodland classifications. Within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, sending parcels must be at least 20 acres in size. The Planning Director is tasked with reviewing applications and issuing TDR certificates. Transfers are approved administratively.  Sending sites can generate one TDR per eight acres of preserved land in the AG and one TDR per five acres of preserved land in the CS district. 

The code now allows receiving areas in over a dozen zoning districts and specifies how much receiving site bonus development can be achieved depending on the zoning classification of the sending site and whether or not the sending and receiving sites are outside or within the Critical Area Resource Conservation Area. For example, receiving sites outside the critical area can be approved by cluster or planned residential development in the E, SE, SR, UR, VC, GNC, SHVC, GVC, TC, and CS zones. In these zones, transferred TDRs allow receiving site open space to be decreased up to 25 percent or density and net building area increased up to 25 percent. On the other hand, on receiving sites zoned E, SE, SR, UR VC, GNC, SHVC, GVC, and TC within the critical area, transferred TDRs can reduce open space up to 25 percent or increase density and net buildable area up to 25 percent as long as 20 acres of critical area RCA are preserved per TDR.

TDRs can also increase non-residential floor area. For example, on non-residential receiving sites in a critical area zoned VC, TC, SC, UC, and SI, TDR allows baseline floor area and impervious surface area coverage to be increased up to 25 percent. Different ratios apply when sending areas are zoned AG, zoned CS within the critical area, or zoned CS and located outside the critical area.

As of 2016, Queen Anne’s County’s TDR programs had preserved 28,230 acres. Some authors attribute this program’s early activity to the fact that receiving sites could be located in the AG zone in the first few years of the program. But even after the county removed the AG zone as a potential receiving area, the program continued to be reasonably successful despite difficulties in transferring density to Kent Island, seemingly the most logical receiving area due to its location at the end if the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

Queen Anne’s County motivates sending area property owners to transfer density with the transfer ratio created when a sending property’s total acreage can be included in the TDR allocation formula even though some of that land might be undevelopable due to poor soil suitability for septic systems. Administrative approval of transfers similarly motivates receiving site developers who might otherwise be concerned about the uncertainty, delay, and cost often resulting from public hearings and discretionary processes. The county also generates preservation by allowing additional development in desirable locations in return for a considerable amount of sending site preservation.


McConnell, V., M. Walls, and F. Kelly. 2007. Making TDR Programs Better: Report Prepared for the Maryland Center for Agroecology. Accessed 1-29-21 at Microsoft Word – McConnell Walls.FINAL-2.doc (umd.edu).

Maryland. 2016. Transfer of Development Rights Committee Report. Maryland Department of Planning. Accessed 1-29-21 at TDR-committee-report-2016.pdf (maryland.gov).