Summit County, Colorado


Summit County, Colorado, population 27,477 (2004), surrounds the popular Breckenridge ski resort in central Colorado. The County has planning areas for each of its four basins and each basin offers its own TDR program. In the Lower Blue and Ten Mile planning basins, TDR is designed to encourage the transfer of density from land with development constraints to land without development constraints. In the Snake River Basin Planning Area, TDR is designed to further the vision, goals and guidelines of the 1995 Snake River Basin Master Plan, including the land use and development pattern recommendations contained in that plan. The key emphasis of the Upper Blue Basin Planning Area, TDR is to encourage the preservation of backcountry mining claims. A profile of this program appears in Beyond Takings and Givings. This update includes the entire profile as presented in the 2003 book but modified to reflect comments provided in April 2005 by Mark Truckee, Long Range Planning Manager for the County.


The TDR regulations for the Lower Blue and Ten Mile planning basins are not detailed. According to Mark Truckee, this lack of detail is one of the primary reasons why these two programs have generated no transfers to date. In these two planning areas, the County Board of Commissioners determines the density bonus to be awarded to a receiving area project based on master plan policies as well as the property’s location and surroundings. The sending and receiving sites must be in close proximity but need not be contiguous. If the proposed sending and receiving sites are determined to be a unit for planning purposes, the Board can approve the transfer by rezoning all affected properties.

The TDR process is guided by more complicated regulations in the other two planning districts. All land in both of these planning areas is potentially eligible to become a sending site. The number of development rights available for transfer is based on the existing zoning designation of the proposed sending site. In other words, the program employs a one-to-one transfer ratio. In the Snake River Basin, applicants must prove that the sending site is actually build-able as evidenced by a lack of development constraints including slopes in excess of 30 percent, flood plains, wetlands, unstable slopes/soils, geologic hazards or other conditions that would preclude development. Conversely, the Upper Blue Basin program does not require a test to determine that sites are buildable.

In the Snake River Basin Planning Area, TDR is needed to exceed the density established in the Snake River Basin Master Plan, Community/Neighborhood Program or existing zoning, whichever is greater. In the Upper Blue Basin Planning Area, TDR is needed for any rezoning, residential or commercial, that would increase the total number of vehicle trips beyond the maximum permitted under existing zoning. However, the County exempts affordable housing and governmental buildings.

In the Snake River Basin and Upper Blue Basin, the County Board can approve increased density on receiving sites either by a rezoning or Planned Unit Development. In the Snake River Basin, the Board must find that the proposed receiving site is suitable for increased development. In the Upper Blue Basin Planning Area, the Board must determine that the proposed receiving area is suitable for increased density and capable of accommodating a greater number of vehicle trips than would otherwise be permitted under the existing zoning designation or a previously approved planned unit development.

In the Snake River Basin Planning Area, the developer must transfer the necessary number of development rights as established in the Master Plan. In the Upper Blue Basin Planning Area, the number of development rights that must be transferred varies by type of development. For residential development, one development right must be transferred for each additional unit above the number allowed by existing zoning or PUD. For non-residential development, the number of development rights transferred must be the equivalent of the additional number of average daily vehicle trips allowed by the rezoning of the receiving site.

Program Status

In 2001, approximately 450 backcountry parcels in the Upper Blue Basin were rezoned to a new Backcountry Zone with significant development restrictions. (For example, a five-acre mining claim is limited to a 900 square-foot house.)  This was designed to encourage owners to sever development rights from abandoned mining claims in remote, back country locations and transfer them to receiving sites either in the Town of Breckenridge or on land that is currently under County jurisdiction but likely to be annexed by Breckenridge. Beyond Takings and Givings stated that the County was also considering a TDR bank. In April 2005, Mark Truckee reported that the County did in fact establish a TDR bank for the Upper Blue Basin to facilitate transfers. This TDR bank, which may be the only functioning TDR bank in Colorado, issues TDR certificates for all TDR transactions. The bank has purchased the TDRs from 722 acres of land. Developers have purchased the TDRs from another 193 acres of land. The April 2005 statistics for the Upper Blue Basin program total 41.71 TDRs transferred in nine transactions, representing the preservation of 915.31 acres.

The Snake River Basin TDR Program has seen four transactions with 28 TDRs transferred representing a total preservation of 63.83 acres of backcountry, increasing the County’s grand total to 979.14 acres preserved.

In April 2005, Mark Truckee also reported that County staff was working with a committee to develop recommended changes to the Lower Blue Basin TDR program. In addition, work has begun on a County-wide TDR program that would allow transfers between the County’s four basins. This project is expected to extend into 2006 and could ultimately result in revisions to all four TDR programs in an effort to promote greater consistency between the basins. Finally, the new County-wide Comprehensive Plan gives policy support to the County-wide TDR program currently under discussion. This Plan also broadens the policy first articulated in the Upper Blue Basin TDR program by recommending that upzonings anywhere in the County be allowed only in conjunction with TDRs.