Rice County, Minnesota

(Profiled 2-25-21)

Rice County, Minnesota, population 66,972 (2019), is a largely agricultural jurisdiction located 30 miles south of Minneapolis. In 2004, the county adopted a TDR program aimed at preserving farmland, environmentally sensitive areas, and open space. By 2016, the program had succeeded in preserving 5,862 acres of land largely because of the strict development limitations that apply here unless property owners choose to use the TDR option.

The Agricultural zone, Rice County’s largest district, allows one dwelling per quarter-quarter section. Under some circumstances, a second unit can be permitted per quarter—quarter section. But the fact remains that many property owners are motivated to forego this limited development potential in quarter quarters with productive soils, particularly on quarter quarters that are within the interior of farms rather than on public roadways, if they can sell that development potential in the form of TDRs. Land zoned Agriculture can become sending sites, generating one TDR for each foregone unit allowed by zoning (with several exceptions, such as additional TDRs for undeveloped parcels of record of various sizes). When these TDRs are used in smaller receiving site projects, this represents a one-to-one transfer ratio. However, only four TDRs are needed to produce a receiving site project involving five bonus units, which creates a 1.25-to-1 transfer ratio that several receiving site developments here have employed.

In addition to the Agricultural district, the Rice County TDR program allows sending sites in four other zones. In the Urban Reserve District, minimum lot area is 35 acres. Minimum riparian lot area is 20,000 square feet in the General Development Shoreland (GDS), 40,000 square feet in the Recreational Development Shoreland (RDS), and 80,000 square feet in the Natural Environment Shoreland (NES). As in the Agricultural district, TDR allocation is the number of units allowed by the sending site’s zoning.

After TDRs have transferred, the sending site is restricted from further development. However, if the site is rezoned to a less restrictive zone, development potential is determined by the new zoning minus the number of units transferred. If a sending site is annexed to a city, the development restriction associated with a TDR transfer is removed.  

TDRs from sending sites in the Agricultural district can be used in three types of receiving sites projects on land that is also zoned Agricultural projects: minor cluster developments, golf course cluster developments, and planned unit developments being built as village extension areas on land with an Agricultural zoning designation that will be (or has been) changed to the Village Mixed Use District. 

TDRs from Shoreland zoning districts can only be transferred to a golf course cluster development, a village extension area within the Agricultural district, or to a receiving site in the same shoreland district around the same lake. 

Sending and receiving sites must be located within the same township except when these sites are contiguous, under common ownership, and when the transfer is authorized by both townships.

As of 2016, all 14 townships in Rice County experienced some TDR activity in varying degrees ranging from a high of 32 receiving lots created in one township versus a low of two receiving lots in another township. In 2016, a total of 192 receiving lots had been created from a total of 175 sending lots. The 17 additional receiving site lots occurred because receiving projects with five bonus lots only had to transfer four TDRs. The total sending area protected by TDR was 5,862 in that year. That represents over 33 acres preserved per TDR, demonstrating the benefit of strong development controls in sending areas where the community is serious about protecting significant resources such as farmland.