Townsend, Massachusetts

The Town of Townsend, population 8,926 (2010), is located about 70 miles west of Boston in northern Massachusetts. It still contains farmland and forested areas including two state forests and a state park. In 1989, the Town adopted a transfer of development rights ordinance to preserve land for passive recreation, conservation, forestry, agriculture and natural buffers. Except for a new numbering system, this code section, now 125-49 in Townsend’s Zoning Code, is identical to the 1997 version. Consequently, the following Process section is unchanged from the profile that appeared in the 2003 book Beyond Takings and Givings.


In this program, sending areas are called donor districts. Donor districts must meet one of the following four criteria.

A)    Any contiguous parcels of land at least five acres in size which qualify for or are currently assessed under the provisions of M.G. L., Chapter 61A.

B)    Land within 300 feet of the banks of the Squannacook River.

C)    Land within the designated aquifer recharge cone of influence.

D)    Land recommended for acquisition or protection in the Town’s Open Space Plan.

Transferable credits are assigned to donor parcels at the rate of 1.2 credits for each build-able lot – a transfer ratio of 1.2 to 1. To be build-able, the donor site must meet all subdivision requirements, zoning regulations and other applicable codes. To create the credits, the donor site owner must record a covenant on the property prohibiting all development and restricting the land for passive recreation, conservation, forestry, agriculture and natural buffers.

Receiving sites are lands zoned RA (Residential Aquifer Overlay District) or RB (Residential B District) except those that qualify as donor districts. Transfers must be done in conjunction with Planning Board approval of a subdivision plan and either an Open Space Preservation Development (OSPD) or an Open Space Multiple Family Residential Development (OSMD).

In the OSPD, single-family residential developments can be granted exemptions to requirements for density, minimum lot frontage and minimum lot area in return for a design that minimizes environmental impacts and preserves at least 30 percent of the subdivision in open space.

In the OSMD, the Planning Board can grant exceptions to minimum frontage, width and area standards as well as density to multiple-family residential developments. In approving these projects, the Planning Board must find that the proposed development is environmentally superior to the project that would result from the application of conventional regulations. Under this code section, at least 60 percent of the site must be preserved as open space.

Program Status

On November 30, 2011, Karen Chapman, Land Use Coordinator, reported that the TDR code section had not been used.