Talbot County, Maryland

Talbot County, population 37,782 (2010), lies 60 miles east of Washington, D.C., on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. A major goal of the County is to manage growth in an effort to preserve rural character and quality of life. To help implement this goal, the County adopted a joint subdivision program and a transfer of development rights program in approximately 1990.

In a 2011 message, Long Range Planner Martin Sokolich reported that the TDR provisions were removed from the zoning ordinance after Beyond Takings and Givings was published in 2003. The following profile is taken directly from Beyond Takings and Givings with the cautionary note that this program is not in place at this time.


Talbot County’s Rural Conservation (RC) District is designed to conserve wetlands, forests and other natural environments as well as provide for resource development activities such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. While agricultural uses are intended as the primary activity in the RC District, large-lot and clustered development is allowed outside of Habitat Protection Areas. The District has a base density of one dwelling per 20 acres.

Within the RC District, density can be transferred through joint subdivisions. Joint subdivisions include a sending area and a receiving area. The sending area is property within Plant and Wildlife Habitat Areas, Drainage Basins of Anadromous Fish Propagation Waters, natural park sites and recreational open space sites excluding areas that are within 500 feet of significantly eroding shorelines, ( with an erosion rate of at least two feet per year) plus adjacent shorelines within 100 feet.

The receiving area is land in the RC District within 500 feet of significantly eroding shorelines plus adjacent shorelines within 100 feet. In promoting transfers to these areas with high erosion rates, the County requires developers to build erosion control facilities at their expense; as the developers sell lots in these subdivisions, the individual owners are required to repair and maintain these erosion control facilities.

In a joint subdivision, the development rights from the sending area are used in the receiving area. Development rights are transferred from the sending area at the rate of one dwelling per 20 acres. The density in the receiving area cannot exceed one dwelling per five acres combining both the units transferred and those permitted by the base zoning. Following a transfer, the sending area is protected from further development through fee title donation, conservation easements and/or cooperative agreements with property owners, whatever method is determined by the Planning Officer to be most appropriate. Using joint subdivisions, the County benefits from shoreline protection at the receiving site and resource preservation at the sending site.

Talbot County also uses a second TDR mechanism to preserve agricultural land in its Rural Agricultural Conservation (RAC) District. The RAC District is intended to provide for agricultural activities while allowing limited single-family residential development. Cluster and TDR-cluster options are not available for parcels of six acres or less. For parcels larger than six acres, the base density is one dwelling unit per 20 acres plus three dwelling units. For cluster subdivisions, the density is one dwelling unit per ten acres plus three dwelling units. And for TDR-cluster subdivisions, the density is one dwelling unit per five acres plus three dwelling units.

Developers who choose the cluster subdivision option obtain a higher density than the basic subdivision density in return for preserving much of their parcels in open space through Reservation of Development Rights Agreements which prohibit future development. The TDR-cluster option allows development rights to be transferred from one RAC District property to another as long as it is within the same County Election District. Development restrictions must be placed on ten acres of the sending area for each dwelling unit transferred to the receiving area. Through this process, the density on the receiving site can be almost twice the density allowed through the normal cluster subdivision process.

To illustrate the options, a 60-acre parcel would yield six dwelling units under the normal subdivision process; one unit per 20 acres plus three dwelling units. The same 60-acre parcel under the cluster subdivision option could be developed at one unit per ten acres plus three units, or nine units in total; in return, 65 percent of the 60-acre parcel, or 39 acres, would be preserved as open space. The TDR-cluster option offers a density of one unit per five acres plus three units, or a total of 15 units on the hypothetical 60-acre parcel; as in a normal cluster subdivision, 65 percent of the parcel would have to be preserved in open space. In addition, for every unit transferred to the receiving site, ten acres would be preserved as open space at sending sites elsewhere in the RAC. In this 60-acre example, six units are transferred in, representing 60 acres preserved at the sending sites in addition to the 39 acres protected at the receiving site. In this example, the 15 units achieved under the TDR cluster option represents a 150-percent density bonus over the six dwelling units allowed under the normal subdivision process.

Program Status

In a November 1998 update, Assistant Planning Officer Frank V. Hall reported that the Talbot County TDR program had preserved 580 acres in two joint subdivisions. In this update, Hall also listed three reasons why the TDR option has not seen greater use in Talbot County.

  1. The market for TDRs in the County is reduced because development pressure in Talbot County is low when compared with more metropolitan areas.
  2. The TDR program was partly designed to give receiving site developers an incentive to build or repair erosion control facilities. However, many waterfront property owners are initiating shoreline protection measures on their own.
  3. The cluster/TDR option allows a receiving site density that requires community sewer and water rather than the individual septic and well systems allowed at the non-TDR density. Many developers would rather build at the lower non-TDR density than incur the time and expense of designing and constructing sewer and water systems.

As reported above, the TDR provisions were subsequently removed from the Talbot County Code.