Sarasota County, Florida

Sarasota County, population 379,448 (2010), lies 50 miles south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast of Florida. To preserve sensitive environmental areas and discourage the development of antiquated, small-lot subdivisions, the County adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance. Sarasota County’s original TDR ordinance was amended in 1999 and 2004.  A 2006 update of Sarasota County’s Comprehensive Plan created a policy foundation for using TDR to preserve portions of land in Resource Management Areas. This second TDR mechanism has been implemented by a second TDR code section which is summarized at the end of the Program Status section.


As of September 2011, Sarasota County’s original TDR ordinance is located in Section 3.17 of the County Zoning Code. Sending zones are two overlay zones: the Residential Sending Zone (RSZ) and the Conservation Sending Zone (CSZ). In the RSZ, transferable development rights are allocated based on the number of dwelling units permitted under current zoning. For a parcel to qualify as a sending site, a proposed RSZ overlay must be consistent with and implement the Comprehensive Plan and comply with at least one of the following criteria.

  • A platted subdivision which does not conform to current development regulations
  • An environmentally-sensitive area
  • An area which should be preserved as agriculture, open space or conservation
  • A parcel of historical or archaeological significance
  • A parcel on a barrier island.

Transferable development rights are allocated to land in the other sending area, the Conservation Sending Zone or CSZ at the ratio of one transferable unit per acre. As explained below, development rights from CSZ overlays must be transferred to specific types of receiving areas. CSZs must be 500 acres in size, designed to facilitate incorporation into regional greenway systems and must meet at least one of the following three criteria.

  • Sites of High Ecological Value as depicted in the Comp Plan
  • Areas of Special Flood hazard
  • Category 1 or 2 storm surge areas
  • Watercourses and associated wetlands and buffers.

Landowners who want to participate, apply for the RSZ or CSZ overlay. Following a public hearing, the Planning Commission forwards its recommendation on the application. Following another public hearing, the Board of County Commissioners can approve the rezoning subject to reasonable conditions including the number of development rights approved for transfer. Prior to any transfer, a conservation easement is recorded on the sending site.

In addition to property owner initiation, the Board of county Commissioners can on its own motion issue transferable development rights for land designated RSZ and CSZ if this action is found to implement the Comprehensive Plan.

The receiving zones are the RRZ (Residential Receiving Zone), FURRZ (Future Urban Residential Receiving Zone), FUD (Future Urban Development) and HDRRZ (High Density Residential Receiving Zone). Development rights from the RSZ sending zone may be used in the RRZ and HDRRZ receiving zones. Development rights from the CSZ sending zone may be used in the FURRZ or FUD receiving zones. The effect of transferable development rights differs between these receiving zones. In the RRZ, TDRs can increase density by 25 percent. Special exceptions can be made allowing the density bonus to exceed 25 percent but in no event can the maximum density exceed 13 units per acre.

Program Status

In 1995, Sarasota County Planning Manager Olga Ronay explained that the TDR program was hampered because developers routinely requested re zonings from agriculture to residential zones and were often satisfied with the densities allowed as a matter of right by the zoning code following those rezonings. Consequently, many developers simply applied for straight-forward rezonings to residential rather than a rezoning to a TDR receiving zone, which would involve the added expense of acquiring development rights from a sending site.

In September 2011, Planner Allen Parsons provided a summary of TDR sending and receiving zone approvals as of June 2009. This summary shows that Sarasota had approved more than ten sending and receiving zones at that time, with the sending zones containing 9,657 acres. Consequently, despite the zoning concerns identified by Ms. Ronay, Sarasota County is in the top 20 programs in the United States in terms of protected sending area land. Most of these zones were adopted in the 1980s, including a 1989 approval that placed over 8,000 acres in an RSZ sending zone. However a rezoning in 2004 placed 730 acres in a CSZ/PUD sending zone.

As mentioned at the start of this profile, as of this writing in September 2011, the Sarasota Zoning Code contains a second TDR mechanism, located at Section 11.2.13, designed to encourage the preservation of environmentally-significant resources. Eligible sending zones include lands in the Greenway, Agricultural Reserve, Rural Heritage/Estate and Village/Open Space Resource Management Areas (RMA). TDR allocation ratios differ depending on the land Characteristics and proposed use of the land as shown in the following table, Table TDR-1 1 Development Rights.

Open Space
High dry scrub 2 DU/acre 2 DU/acre
1.90 DU/acre 1.90 DU/acre
Dry prairie 1.80 DU/acre 1.80 DU/acre
Pine flatwood 1.80 DU/acre 1.80 DU/acre
1.80 DU/acre 1.80 DU/acre
1.65 DU/acre 1.65 DU/acre
Freshwater wetlands 1.65 DU/acre 1.65 DU/acre
Potable water storage
1.65 DU/acre 1.65 DU/acre
Existing and new passive public parks N/A 1.0 DU/acre
Existing rangeland,
citrus and
row crops, nursery
1.0 DU/acre 1.0 DU/acre
Existing low intensity
.86 DU/acre .86 DU/acre
New low
.86 DU/acre .86 DU/acre
New agriculture that uses best management practices N/A .86 DU/acre
New hiking/natural
.86 DU/acre .86 DU/acre
Existing high intensity
.57 DU/acre .57 DU/acre
Lakes and
regional stormwater facilities
.57 DU/acre .57 DU/acre
New active public parks N/A .57 DU/acre
Developed land in village N/A .29 DU/acre
Golf courses N/A 0 DU/acre


These allocation ratios can be multiplied by a factor of 0.1 for sending sites that preserve, expand, enhance or connect Greenways. The factors can be multiplied by a factor of 0.05 for sites that protect specific scenic views or lands contiguous to either an Urban Service Area Boundary or sites designated as a Major Employment Center/Interstate Regional Office Park. However the maximum allocation ratio cannot exceed two dwelling units per acre.