Waseca County, Minnesota

Waseca County, population 20,000, lies in the Southern Lakes Region of south-central Minnesota, 70 miles south of Minneapolis. It has very productive farms surrounding its cities, (Janesville, New Richland, Waldorf and Waseca), and supplements its agricultural economy with manufacturing and tourism. In August 2009, the County adopted a TDR program designed to preserve rural resources and lands that provide a public benefit.

To be eligible as a sending site, parcels must be at least a complete quarter-quarter section (40 acres) and zoned A-1, Agricultural Protection District. Under certain circumstances, eligible parcels may be located in the UE, Urban Expansion District. Sending sites cannot be developed with any residences, feedlots or commercial/industrial buildings. One TDR can be transferred to a receiving site for each 40 acres of land placed under easement. The easement documents the permanent transfer of development rights from the sending site.

Receiving areas can be located in the A-1 or UE. In the A-1 District, receiving sites cannot adversely affect significant environmental resources or require the extension of public services. Within the UE District, the developer of a receiving site must record a covenant agreeing to allow an abutting municipality to annex the subdivision when utilities can be provided. In either of these districts, a receiving project can be located adjacent to a feedlot only if “an owner intends to occupy a residence.”

Transfers can occur between two lots anywhere in the County as long as the sending and receiving sites are under common ownership. Transfers between two owners can occur without conditional use permit (CUP) approval if the sending and receiving lots are within the same township. CUP approval is required if the sending and receiving sites are under separate ownership and located in different townships.

Transfers cannot exceed eight TDRs per 40 acres when the receiving site is developed as a traditional subdivision. A maximum transfer of 16 TDRs per 40 acres applies when the receiving site is developed as conservation subdivision.

The ordinance includes a sunset provision under which the TDR program expires at the end of December 2015 unless extended by County Board Resolution. The ordinance also requires the Zoning Administrator to prepare an annual report documenting the progress of the program. The first annual report, prepared five months after program adoption, stated that no TDRs had transferred and suggested that demand for TDRs might be low for the near term future because many undeveloped subdivided lots were available at the end of 2009.