County: To TDR, or not to TDR?
Planning commission questions residential buildout approaches
The Calvert County Planning Commission explored assumptions that provided an idea of what could happen with future residential development based upon the county’s current zoning laws with or without the use of transferable development rights, during a meeting Aug. 30 on the comprehensive plan update.
“In the town centers, what we suggested is there be an increase in the base density … and a proactive sewer policy. Then around the town centers we propose that you consider allowing an increase in densities probably two units per acre, but with developer-funded sewer extensions,” said planning consultant Jackie Seneschal of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the firm participating in the county’s plan update and zoning ordinance rewrite.
The night’s dialogue was based on possibilities that were born out of a capacity analysis completed in June of this year by the Maryland
Department of Planning. Seneschal said one of the reasons MDP conducted the study was to determine how much of an impact the recently enacted Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, also known as the Growth Tier Act or septic law, will have in Calvert County, which she estimates to be a 1 or 2 percent difference in overall residential development.
“Your TDR program and other kinds of constraints have a far bigger impact on your buildout capacity,” said Seneschal, minimizing the impact of the septic law. The county’s TDRs are a land use mechanism that employs techniques to deter development in certain communities for the purpose of preservation and to promote development in other communities for growth.
From the MDP study, six scenarios were developed to show a range of possibilities for development capacity in the county based on the septic law, the county’s TDR program and environmental and site constraints. However, given the implementation of the state’s septic law, only two scenarios, or assumptions, remain viable options for consideration.
One such scenario illustrates no use of TDRs and the potential impacts of the septic law using the county’s most recent draft Septic Growth Tier Map. It also reflects the minimum densities allowed in each zoning district without the use of TDRs.
The other scenario shows use of full site constraints and the potential impacts of the septic law. It also takes into consideration all constrained lands identified in the county’s ordinances that are mapped and subtracted from the developable acres of each parcel greater than 5 acres.
The two scenarios set the framework for the lengthy discussion on how the county can possibly proceed forward. Under option 1, 8,700 new households could be built under the current zoning laws beyond 2040, which represents the low end of buildout.
“Every place you could put TDRs to increase density in the county … you’d be able to accommodate 15,000,” explained Seneschal, referring to full buildout of houses under the second option with zoning laws in place today.
Seneschal said the county has a supply of 12,500 available TDRs, of which roughly 3,000 are uncertified and 9,500 are unallocated.
“The uncertified ones means we have ag preservation districts that exist that have been designated, but they haven’t come forward to get their TDRs certified,” explained longrange planner Jenny Plummer-Welker, distinguishing between the two types. Certified TDRs could be sold if the owner desires.
“What the analysis by MDP tells us is that we need TDRs for about 6,300 units,” reported Seneschal. “It suggest that the potential available inventory of TDRs may be in excess of what you are going to have in demand for those TDRs.”
Seneschal clarified this does not take into consideration the market, but reiterated that on the basis of buildout, the county may have more TDRs than available capacity.
“It’s hard to predict that. It’s not precise, but it suggests there is a potential problem,” said Seneschal.
Planning commissioner Richard Holler asked if farmers who have gone into the county’s program in “good faith” and have TDRs for which there is no sale will become “a route to litigation” for the county. Seneschal was unable to answer.
Plummer-Welker said most districts require five TDRs to create an additional housing unit, but in recent years the planning commission and the Board of County Commissioners approved a sliding scale in the town centers with sewer, specifically Prince Frederick, Solomons and Lusby. One TDR for apartments, three for townhouses, three for single-family homes with lots less than 10,000 square feet and five TDRs for anything greater.
Also in response to Holler’s concern, Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis said annually the county offers up money for the purchase of TDRs and this year the county had money left over.
“They had an opportunity and they didn’t take advantage of it,” said Willis, adding that the county eased up on restrictions for when people could exit the TDR program, which could benefit those who did not sell any of their TDRs.
Weighing density and sewer
Over the next 25 years (2015 to 2040), MDP projects growth in the county at 5,760 new households.
“The county is not seeing the rate of growth now that it saw 15 or 20 years ago,” said Seneschal, reporting that there was a lot of household growth in the county up until 2000, when it began to level off.
Despite the capacity in the system and no use of TDRs under the existing zoning, the number of households being built has declined. Seneschal said something is affecting growth in the county beyond just zoning.
Seneschal took at look at where growth is currently allowed in the county using the proposed future land use categories, specifically the town centers of Dunkirk, Prince Frederick, Lusby and Solomons and the villages of Owings, Huntingtown and St. Leonard.
In the town centers, the total units permitted by right, or without TDRs, is 1,000. It is 300 for villages. In the 1-mile radius area almost 3,000 households can be accommodated. Outside the 1-mile radius is about 4,600.
“We have a county that says we want our growth to take place in our [designated] town centers, but when you look at where your ‘by right’ capacity is — it’s all in the rural areas,” revealed Seneschal.
Using TDRs, the county can achieve a lot of new growth in town centers, most of which would be in Prince Frederick. Inside the 1-mile radius, TDRs will afford 4,200 housing units, with 5,400 outside of it.
Seneschal questioned whether this distribution of development capacity supports the county’s goal of directing future growth to the town centers and villages and preserving the rural character in Calvert.
“Using the ‘ by right’ potential in the town centers, we are only able to accommodate about 20 percent of the growth projected over the next few years,” reported Seneschal. “You have to fully use TDRs in the town centers.”
Planning member John Toohey asked if there is a big difference in costs to the county for services to include education and emergency services between town centers and rural areas. Seneschal said generally in compact development, as in the town centers, the provision of services is less expensive, and in scattered communities, there are more roads to maintain and emergency services have to travel farther.
Deputy planning chair
Greg Kernan asked how the county can strengthen the current policy of directing future growth to the town centers and villages, to which Seneschal suggested increasing the already permitted density in the town centers.
“It needs to be compliant with a proactive approach to [provisional] sewer,” the consultant added.
The group discussed the need to increase density in the town centers; conventional density is currently 1 acre per unit.
Seneschal said the county is going to have to think creatively how to get sewer in the ground and that right now it is harder to develop in the town centers.
In addition to density, the group discussed how they should treat residential areas around the town centers with respect to sewer. Any possible extension of sewer service to areas around town centers would have to be done with TDRs and be developer funded, according to Seneschal.
Planning member Maria Buehler suggested making a final determination on town center approaches before deciding what to do with the outlying ares.
A concern about adding more people on septic for fear of nitrogen and fecal matter in ponds surfaced. Willis assured the group the county runs a stream monitoring program.
Toohey asked if the county encourages the increase of density in the town centers and areas immediately around them, and if rural development is pushed by family conveyance lots, will it increase the total amount of people living in the county. Seneschal said there will probably be some increase in population; otherwise there would be a decrease in property values in rural areas.
Holler expressed concern over the need for demographic balances, pointing out the county’s high aging population. He also expressed concern over the affordability of housing in the county for hospitality and tourism workers with low salaries.
“I am not in favor; I’m not opposed completely to Section 8 housing, but they have to have some place to live,” said Holler.
The group also discussed getting enough density in the transitional areas and villages as well as how sewer should be treated. Treatment of rural areas was also discussed. Currently, the county allows people in rural communities to increase density through TDRs. The group pondered whether to allow TDR use in rural areas outside of the town center.
“I think that I would be accurately expressing the feelings of Calvert County citizens and not this board when I say we would like Calvert to look rural as possible, to be as rural as possible, to have as many trees left in 25 years as possible. I think that’s one of the best ways to get there, is to reduce rural development,” said Toohey, to which Holler and Kernan nodded in concurrence.
Seneschal said as the county reduces the development potential outside the town centers, the county should compensate appropriately. She also said vibrant town
centers will help address some of the tax base issues.
Issues over how to address traffic in town centers surfaced, to which the consultant said more robust pedestrian and bicycle networks, walkable communities and planned road improvements should ease congestion.
Planning and zoning staff and the consultant will take the planning board’s concerns and feedback into consideration and update approaches to density and sewer for consideration for a future discussion.