Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Santa Fe County, population 144,170 (2010), surrounds the City of Santa Fe located 50 miles northeast of Albuquerque. The County includes portions of the Santa Fe National Forest, Bandelier National Monument and other public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management as well as several Indian reservations.

In 2000, Santa Fe County, the City of Santa Fe and Santa Fe Extraterritorial Zoning Authority adopted the Santa Fe Metro Area Highway Corridor Plan. The Corridor Plan is designed to minimize highway access points, establish greater separation between highways and adjacent land uses and protect the scenic vistas and natural landscape as viewed from Interstate 25 and New Mexico State Highway 599. To achieve these goals, the Plan confines new commercial development to two nodes and designates the remainder of the planning area as Scenic Corridor. The Scenic Corridor designation allows only residential development. The Plan called for investigation of TDR as a way of encouraging the voluntary preservation of land within a portion of the scenic corridor called the Desired Setback. Residential development is discouraged but not prohibited within the Desired Setback.

A TDR ordinance was adopted in May 2001 to implement the Highway Corridor Plan. As contemplated in the Plan, the ordinance encourages property owners to sell development rights rather than build on land within the Desired Setback. The ordinance also encourages the transfer of development rights from many portions of the land immediately adjacent the freeways, called the Required Setback. And finally, the ordinance offers greater incentives for the preservation of land that is now designated as Required Setbacks or Desired Setbacks but which was identified as appropriate for rezoning to commercial development prior to the adoption of the Highway Corridor Plan.

Since the 2001 ordinance remains unchanged, this case study duplicates the profile that appeared in Beyond Takings and Givings.


The ordinance specifies those portions of land in the Required Setback and Desired Setback that qualify as sending areas. There are three TDR allocation categories. Twelve TDRs per acre are allocated to land surrounding eight identified intersections of the major roads with the two freeways; these nodes were previously identified as potential commercial districts but were subsequently designated for setbacks by the Highway Corridor Plan. Some portions of the scenic corridor that are not within the “Former Potential Commercial Nodes” described above are allocated four TDRs per acre and others are allocated five TDRs per acre. The differences in TDR allocation were based on estimates provided by an appraiser serving as a land value advisor. These estimates indicated that developers should be willing to pay $4,000 per TDR. In those portions of the scenic corridor where four TDRs were allocated per acre, the average market value was estimated to be $16,000 per acre. Similarly, in those portions of the corridor where the average full market value of land is $20,000 per acre, the ordinance allows property owners to sell five TDRs per acre. TDR allocations were based on the full market value of land because land in the sending areas has little economic value for any use other than development.

The ordinance identifies five receiving areas. Four of these receiving areas were identified as growth areas in the County’s Growth Management Plan. One of these areas is planned entirely for commercial uses and the other three are planned for a mix of residential and commercial development. The fifth receiving area consists of those portions of the Highway Corridor Planning Area that are located within one-quarter mile of existing commercial uses or commercial zoning but are not located within the Desired Setback, Required Setback or any community planning district other than the Highway Corridor District.

Within these receiving areas, developers may build up to the density allowed by current zoning, one dwelling per 2.5 acres, without buying TDRs. However, developers who wish to exceed this threshold must buy one TDR for each additional dwelling unit. In areas planned for commercial uses, developers must buy nine TDRs for each acre of land changed to nonresidential zoning.

Initially, developers will have to apply for zoning changes in the designated receiving areas in order to exceed the established TDR threshold. This allows the County to examine proposed receiving site developments on a case by case basis. For one of the five receiving areas, the TDR ordinance adopted a new TDR receiving zone: TDRR-5. This new zoning category maintains the maximum density of the existing zoning, one unit per 2.5 acres, as the baseline zoning and allows up to five units per acre when developers buy one TDR for each additional unit. The TDRR-5 zone also establishes development requirements for massing, architecture, materials, color, landscaping and other design components in an effort to maximize compatibility with adjacent development. If the County is so inclined, it could at some point in the future initiate a rezoning of all land that qualifies for the TDRR-5 zone. An area-wide rezoning to the TDRR-5 would allow developers to exceed the TDR threshold without the need to apply for a rezoning as long as they buy the required number of TDRs and follow the requirements for development in that zone.

The Santa Fe County TDR Ordinance treats TDRs as a commodity. After an approved TDR Easement is recorded, the sending site owner completes and records a Deed of Transfer of Development Rights. TDRs can be sold to anyone and held for any length of time prior to use on a receiving site. A new Deed of Transfer of Development Rights must be recorded each time TDRs are conveyed.

A TDR Manager is responsible for administration of the program. Initially staff from the County Planning Division performed the functions of the TDR Manager. However, the TDR Manager could eventually become a private-sector firm, a land trust or other non-profit organization. The Ordinance also allows the County Board to create a TDR Bank; however, the creation of a TDR Bank is not considered a near-term priority.

Program Status

In September 2011, Jack Kolkmeyer, Santa Fe County Growth Management Director, reported that the TDR ordinance was hampered by onerous conditions  and a lawsuit. Although roughly 12 applicants expressed interest in the program, no transfers actually occurred. As of 2011, the Highway Corridor has been annexed by the City of Santa Fe and no longer exists although the TDR provisions remain in the municipal code.

In 2010, the County adopted a Sustainable Growth Management Plan (SGMP) and is implementing it with a new Land Development Code. As of September 2011, the County is considering exploration of new TDR provisions designed to protect the environmentally-sensitive and culturally-significant La Cienega area and possibly other areas designated for open space and agricultural preservation in the new plan. The SGMP also designates priority growth areas that could become receiving areas.