Santa Fe County, New Mexico

(Profiled 1-25-21)

Santa Fe County, population 150,398 (2019), 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 Native American reservations.

In 2001, Santa Fe County adopted a TDR ordinance aimed at protecting scenic views and natural landscapes in an effort to implement its Highway Corridor Plan. The 2001 TDR program has been rendered obsolete by the adoption in December 2015 of a new Sustainable Land Development Code which contains a countywide TDR program aimed at preserving agriculture, open space, rural character, scenic vistas, natural features, areas of special character, areas of special historic, cultural, aesthetic value and environmental resources.

Under the 2015 TDR Program, TDRs can be sent from:

  1. Sending sites identified in a Community Overlay District;
  2. Sites designated as environmental, resource protection, historic preservation or agricultural overlays;
  3. Sensitive environmental lands such as wildlife habitat and archeological sites;
  4. Farmland;
  5. Lands providing open space and preserving scenic views, natural features, and areas of special character; and
  6. Land affected by development orders granting BUD relief.
  7. The 2015 ordinance allows one TDR to be granted to a qualified sending site for each dwelling unit that could be located on the property according to the zoning code. Owners can transfer some or all of their TDRs. To create TDRs, the sending site owner must record a TDR Sending Area Plat that identifies the TDR Sending Area and a TDR Agreement that establishes the number of TDRs transferred. The ordinance specifies that TDRs must be transferred using development rights certificates. TDR Certificates are issued for each TDR which can be sold for development in receiving sites.

Owners of sending sites with valid irrigation water rights have the option of recording a restriction on the transfer of those rights in return for one TDR per acre restricted to the county’s satisfaction.

The ordinance has a transfer ratio allowing four bonus dwelling units and 10,000 additional square feet of non-residential floor area per TDR in combination with increases to height, lot coverage, and percent of residential use. 

There are seven categories of receiving sites:

  1. Land zoned Mixed Use;
  2. Land zoned Planned Development;
  3. Land zoned Industrial General (I);
  4. Land zoned Industrial Light (IL);
  5. Land zoned Commercial General;
  6. Designated receiving areas; or
  7. A district rezoned to a higher density.

In the case of receiving area categories 1 through 5, the Sustainable Development Ordinance provides baseline development maximums/minimums and maximums/minimums pertaining to projects using TDR. In many instances, the use of TDR allows multiple baseline exceedances. For example, in the Mixed-Use zone, the TDR option allows:

  • Density to increase from 1 unit to 20 units per acre;
  • The percent of non-residential development to increase from 15 to 50 percent and to decrease from the baseline minimum of 10 percent to 5 percent;
  • Frontage and lot width to decrease from 50 to 25 feet;
  • Building height to increase from 27 to 48 feet; and
  • Lot coverage to increase from 40 percent to 80 percent.

The baseline for projects not using TDR is one unit per acre in the Mixed-Use and Planned Development zones (as well as the Commercial General zone when the site is surrounded by RC. This baseline should motivate many developers to use the TDR option, particularly when each TDR allows four bonus dwelling units.

As of November 4, 2020, seven owners of sending sites had a total of 57 TDRs qualified, of which ten have been certified, meaning these sending sites are now permanently protected by conservation easement.