Two officials from the north Fulton County city of Milton last night told 30 Oconee County citizens, including four commissioners, why Milton adopted just last June a Transfer of Development Rights program.
The reason, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Lusk told the group, was simple.
The residents wanted to maintain the rural character, the “green space, the open space, your farms,” he said, and the TDR program was a mechanism for doing just that.
Kathleen Field, community development director for Milton, told the group the city could not afford to buy up land or development rights.
The market, she said, will determine how successful the TDR program ultimately is in preserving the open spaces.
If developers are willing to purchase development rights that the owners of undeveloped land want to sell, she said, the city will be able to achieve its goal.
Commissioner Luke Remains Skeptical
Commissioner Jim Luke, who has been an outspoken proponent of development in the county, told Field and Lusk that “I think I’m beginning, for the first time, to get my arms a little bit around how a TDR program can work.”
But Luke said “I don’t know that I can get my arms around how it is going to work in Oconee County yet.”
Luke said he was having difficulty transferring the experience of a city in the densely population Atlanta metropolitan area to largely rural Oconee County, which, in his view, already has done much to preserve the southern part of the county.
Planning Commission member Chuck Hunt challenged Luke, saying that a TDR program has worked in largely rural Marion County in central Florida, where he has a horse farm. He also has a horse farm in Oconee County, and he said he thought Oconee County should study Marion County for insights.
The audience was largely favorable to the ideas set forth in the presentation by Field and Lusk, save one woman, who did not give her name, who repeatedly expressed concerns about the “constitutional rights” of land owners.
Field told the woman a TDR program is completely voluntary, with no land owner being required to sell development rights, and no land owner being required to buy those rights.
A TDR program is based on the idea that the owner of every piece of land has the right to develop it.
Through a TDR program, however, a government designates certain areas as appropriate for future growth and certain areas that would be better left undeveloped.
The former would be classified as receiving areas, and the latter as sending areas.
A land owner in the receiving areas could purchase the development rights from a landowner in the sending area. The owner in the receiving area, by buying the development rights, would be able to develop the land more densely or achieve some other development advantage.
The land owner in the sending area, in selling the development rights, would agree to place deed restrictions on the land that would prevent the land from being developed in perpetuity.
247 Programs In 34 States
Field said that Milton joined leaders in 246 other governmental entities in 34 states in adopting a TDR program. She said that the TDR programs had preserved 430,000 acres from development.
In Georgia, Atlanta and Chattahoochee Hills, in south Fulton County, also have TDR programs. The Milton program, the newest, has not yet been used.
Russ Page, active in farmland preservation and a persistent advocate of TDR programs, had invited the Milton officials to come to Oconee County after county Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost took a skeptical view about the viability of TDR programs in Georgia.
Provost told the Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning at its Feb. 19 meeting that he did not think anyone had “figured out” how to make a TDR program work in Georgia, though Provost acknowledged TDR programs had been successful in other states.
A citizen committee appointed by the Board of Commissioners to study TDR programs recommended in January of 2009 that the county explore TDR programs, and the BOC immediately instructed Provost to develop a detailed scope of work and generate a request for proposals for a TDR consultant.
Provost didn’t take action until late last year, citing the slow down in the economy as the reason.
At that time, the county issued a request for qualifications to find persons who could help the county develop a plan, but it has not gone further.
Provost In Audience
Provost, as well as several members of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee, were in the audience last night.
Also in attendance was state Rep. Chuck Williams, who lives in the southern part of Oconee County and has spoken publicly about the economic disadvantage landowners in the county’s rural south have because the county has discouraged development there in favor of development in the north.
Commissioners John Daniell and Mark Saxon, along with BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, were in the audience as well.
Page told me that Davis and Luke joined him and the two Milton officials for dinner before the public meeting, which was held at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.
The session lasted just more than an hour.
The full video of the session is on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.
The PowerPoint presentation used by Field and Lusk is here.