Sterns County, Minnesota

Sterns County, population 150,642 (2010), surrounds its county seat, St. Cloud, 70 miles northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul . In 2010, the County adopted a TDR ordinance to preserve farmland throughout the County and important resources in its Avon Hills Policy Area. Section 11 of the Sterns County Land Use and Zoning Ordinance cites its statutory authorization (Minnesota Statutes, Section 394.25 subdivision 2) and explains how the TDR program implements five goals from the County Comprehensive Plan including agricultural preservation, growth management, infrastructure efficiency, preservation of natural systems and protection of agricultural soils and other natural resources.

The program requires townships to adopt resolutions agreeing to participate in the County TDR program and identify growth areas consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan. Each TDR transaction must be reviewed by the township(s) containing the sending and receiving site.

Sending areas may not be located within any municipality’s Urban Expansion District. Sending areas must be zoned A-160, A-80 or A-40. All unused residential dwelling sites allowed by the applicable sending site zoning may be transferred.

Receiving sites may only be located within an Urban Expansion District with the approval of both the municipality and township involved. Four types of receiving sites are possible: Rural Townsite District, a permitted open space or agricultural conservation design development within an A-40 zoning district, an Urban Expansion District or growth areas consistent with the Sterns County Comprehensive Plan. Different provisions apply in these four categories.

  1. Rural Townsite District – One TDR allows two bonus dwelling units to a maximum density increase of one unit per acre.
  2. Conservation Design in A-40 Districts – At a one-to-one ratio, TDRs can be used to increase density by up to two additional dwelling units per 40 acres but density may not exceed the approved yield plan.
  3. Urban Expansion District – One TDR yields one extra dwelling unit unless the Orderly Annexation Agreement allows a different calculation.
  4. Growth Areas – One TDR yields one extra dwelling unit.

Interested sending site owners and receiving site developers first receive County approval of a proposed transfer from the Planning Director. If approved, a conservation easement, held by Sterns County or any other entity authorized to hold easements by Minnesota statutes, is recorded on the sending site limiting some or all development. Sterns County TDRs cannot be transferred to intermediaries and a TDR bank is not allowed. TDRs must be transferred directly to a receiving property.

Section 11.2 of the TDR code establishes a similar but separate process which allows any land within the Natural Resource Conservation Design Overlay District to serve as a sending site with the receiving areas consisting of resource conservation subdivisions. The transfer ratio is one-to-one and the maximum number of density units allowed to be transferred into a Natural Resource Conservation Subdivision is two per 40 acres as long as conservation design standards are met.