Woolwich, New Jersey

The Township of Woolwich is located in Gloucester County in west-central New Jersey, 25 miles southwest of Philadelphia, PA. Following the approval of a 4,500-unit development in the late 1990s, Woolwich became the fastest growing community in New Jersey and the second-fastest growing community in the entire northeastern United States. In 2005, the Township’s population was estimated at 7,563, representing a 25 percent increase in one year. The Township was justifiably concerned that uncontrolled growth would overwhelm the public infrastructure system, increase taxes and destroy the Township’s significant farmlands and natural areas.

In 2004 New Jersey enacted the State Transfer of Development Rights Act and approved funding for TDR demonstration projects in six communities. In 2005, Woolwich became one of those first six communities and embarked on a TDR program designed to promote compact mixed use centers surrounded by thousands of acres of preserved farmland and scenic open space. Woolwich’s study was the first of these six demonstration projects to be completed and approved by the State of New Jersey.

In conjunction with TDR ordinance adoption, Woolwich identified 4,000 acres of sending area land on its TDR plan map. To qualify as a sending site, a parcel must be within this designated sending area, be free of development that would render the site unusable for agriculture, conservation or public open space and be at least ten acres in size as of 2008, the year of adoption of the TDR provisions. Sending sites must also be free of deed restrictions that prevent any further subdivision and cannot be publicly owned.

The TDR ordinance was adopted in conjunction with a downzoning that limited on-site development in the sending area to one unit per 15 acres. However, the TDR mechanism allows sending area landowners to calculate the TDRs available for transfer using the densities allowed under the zoning in place prior to this downzoning as described below.

The Township applied a formula to every potential sending site that factors for site zoning (R-1, R-2 or R-3) and soil suitability for on-site septic wastewater treatment systems, which is the only treatment option available in the sending area. For example, a portion of a parcel in the R-1 zone with only light septic limitations would receive one credit per two acres placed under easement while a portion with severe soil limitations would receive one credit for each 36-acre segment placed under easement. Landowners may appeal this allocation method by submitting a conceptual subdivision plan supported by percolation tests performed on at least 30 percent of the site. If the appeal procedure results in 20 percent or more TDR credits than the Township’s standard method, the landowner is given an addition one-quarter credit.

The Township has planned two receiving areas. The largest is the US 322 Corridor area which contains a 647-acre segment called the Woolwich New Town. Woolwich New Town is planned for mixed uses including 3,217 dwelling units of which only 100 will be single-family residential units. (In total, the receiving areas are planned for up to 3.6 million square feet of commercial floor area.) The Auburn Road receiving area is 125 acres in size and is planned for 502 homes of which 130 will be single-family residential.

To qualify as a receiving site, parcels must be located within a receiving zone as indicated on the Township’s TDR Map. Developers who decline to participate in the TDR program are limited to a maximum density of one dwelling per 15 acres, the density imposed by the downzoning that occurred in conjunction with adoption of the TDR ordinance. However, when developers participate in the TDR program they are granted an as of right density of one unit per 1.5 acres.

The bonus density achievable using TDR credits varies depending on the location of the receiving site and the type of bonus unit proposed by the developer. In the U.S. 322 Corridor receiving zone, each credit allows 1.3 bonus single-family detached, 1.8 duplex, 2.8 townhouse or 3.0 apartment dwelling units. In the Auburn Road receiving area, each TDR credit allows 1.6 duplex and 2.5 townhouse dwelling units.

The ordinance requires a first review of the program three years after adoption and a second review five years after adoption. If the program has not transferred at least 25 percent of the development potential after five years, the zoning changes instituted as part of the transfer program will be “presumed to be no longer reasonable” unless one of the following occurs.

  • The Township buys or otherwise arranges to buy enough TDRs to achieve the target of 25 percent of the development potential.
  • The sending area landowners agree to keep the TDR program.
  • The Township demonstrates that failure to meet the target resulted from uncontrollable circumstances, like a bad economy, rather than program flaws.
  • The Township can demonstrate that less than 25 percent of the remaining development potential in the sending zone has been available for sale at market value during the five-year period.

Every five years thereafter, the Township must review the program. If 25 percent of the development potential remaining after the last five-year review has not been transferred, the TDR ordinance must be repealed along with any zoning code changes adopted in conjunction with the TDR ordinance.

All transfers must be reported to the County TDR Bank and the State TDR Bank. The ordinance includes a procedure for landowners who were unable to sell their TDR credits to be removed from enrollment in the program. The TDR ordinance also clarifies that sending and receiving sites will be assessed to reflect the increases and decreases in fair market value caused by transfers. Development rights severed from a sending site but not yet attached to a receiving site are not assessed for property tax.