Town of Williston, Chittenden County, Vermont

The Town of Williston, population 8,698 (2010), lies ten miles east of the City of Burlington in Chittenden County in northwestern Vermont. Due in part to IBM’s Essex Junction plant, the pressure for new development in the County is relatively high compared with the growth rates for Vermont as a whole. The Town of Williston gets a big share of the new growth because it has a sewer system.

The community is concerned about the impacts of rapid growth, Consequently, the Town adopted quota limits on annual development and approved a general plan designed to preserve park sites, conservation areas, open space and rural character in general by steering growth to development areas served by the sewer system. In 1990, the Town implemented this general plan policy by adopting a transfer of development rights ordinance.

In the original Williston TDR program, sending areas, were designated on the map of the Town’s Open Space Master Plan and included park sites, conservation areas and “prime openland”. Categories of sending sites were matched with categories of receiving sites. For example, development rights from sending sites designated Village Center could only be transferred receiving sites designated as Village Center, Hamlets within Agricultural/Rural Residential zones or to Medium Density Residential. Rights from Medium Density Residential zones can only be transferred to other land zoned Medium Density Residential.

In 2009, Williston adopted a new Unified Development Bylaw containing the provisions described in the Process section below.


In the 2009 version of Williston’s TDR provisions, sending areas can be lands in the ARZD (Agricultural/Rural Residential Zoning District) or parcels in other zoning districts designated as conservation areas in the Town’s Open Space Plan. The transfer ratio is one-to-one, meaning that one additional dwelling unit can be built on a receiving site for each development right precluded from use on a sending site by an approved “instrument of conveyance.”

Receiving areas must be located within the Town’s growth center. Using TDRs, density can increase as follows depending on the receiving site zoning district. Special permission is not needed to achieve bonus density as long as all requirements are followed including the transfer of the necessary number of TDRs.

Receiving Site Zoning Baseline units/acre Maximum unit/acre with TDR
GZDS (Gateway Zoning District North) 7.5 10
MUCZD (Mixed Use Commercial Zoning District) 7.5 15
MURZD (Mixed Use Residential Zoning District) 7.5 15
TCZD (Tafts Corner Zoning District) 7.5 15

Program Status

Between 1990 and 1995, no projects used the TDR provisions. David H. Spitz, former Town Planner, explained that the incentives to use TDR had not been well established and that it was difficult to tell whether there was a market demand for higher density development in the Town. Also, Williston’s annual quota on building permits created a five-year backlog of approved units, which dealt a blow to the chances of creating near-term demand for TDRs.

In 2001, Michael J. Munson, then the Town Planner, explained that the densities available to new developments on receiving sites with transferable rights might not be significantly different from densities that are achievable on the same sites without the transferable rights. As a result, there was little motivation for developers to pay for land in receiving areas, where sewer service is available, and pay for transferable development rights when they did not gain much additional density under the original code.

The TDR provisions in the 2009 version of the Unified Development Bylaw are very simple and offer a meaningful density increase to developers who wish to exceed baseline in the receiving zones. Of course, program success will depend on the number of developers who want to exceed that 7.5 unit per acre baseline once the recession is over and building activity resumes.