How Counties Can Sell Their Development Rights and Preserve More Farmland

I know this is already in the Ron Beitler platform in Lower Macungie, but I’m hoping to get County Executive candidates John Callahan, John Brown, Tom Muller and Scott Ott and the various County Council candidates interested in this idea as well, because I think it’ll be a money-saver for local government and a nice boost for new housing construction.

I have two problems with the current farmland preservation program. One is that the Counties aren’t strategic about which farmland gets bought. The goal needs to be to strategically buy the land that’s right outside the current edge townships, which people would most want to use for new large-lot exurban housing development or shopping centers. The purpose of land preservation needs to be to stop more sprawl development.

The other problem is that Counties buy development rights to farmland and then don’t use them for anything. They’re sitting on millions of dollars’ worth of development rights. What Ron Beitler is proposing is a Tradable Development Rights bank, where developers can buy those farmland development rights and convert them into air rights to use in the built-up areas.

For instance, downtown Allentown’s zoning code caps building heights in a “high density” residential area at 38 feet. That’s not very high density obviously, so the city could pick an area where developers can cash in their development rights from the TDR bank, and build taller than the zoning code allows by-right. In Northampton County, the former Steel land could become a TDR zone. Currently building height is limited to 200 feet, but developers could have the option of cashing in development rights and building taller than that.

Every square foot of developable space that becomes inactive in the rural areas due to farmland preservation just gets transferred somewhere else.

The best part about this is that no public money would be required, since developers would buy the development rights, and the County would turn around and use it to purchase more farmland.

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