Since its inception in the late 1990's, Friends of Worcester has been urging our supervisors to conserve our township's rural atmosphere by preserving open space through land preservation and conservation zoning. Regional studies have shown that every acre of land that is preserved from development saves taxpayers money in the long run, because residential development costs more for services - schools, road mainenance and improvement, sewers, police and fire protection - than it generates in taxes. (For more detailed information, click here to find out how "Saving Land Saves Money" by Montgomery County Lands Trust.)
Although Worcester has contributed to the preservation of several farms in partnership with the state/county Farmland Preservation Program, there are many other parcels that will succumb to suburban sprawl. How do we continue to save land from development pressure when funding sources are limited? One way is for our supervisors to ask township residents to authorize a bond issue to preserve undeveloped land before it's too late. Another way is a dedicated earned income tax to be used only for Open Space. FOW continues to urge our supervisors to support both a bond referenduman and/or open space tax.
In addition to preserving land outright by acquisition or purchasing the development rights, we can also control how development happens. Worcester's Growing Greener Ordinance, adopted in 2006, requires landowners to preserve at least 50 percent of a tract as open space during the land development process on parcels over 8 acres in the AGR or LPD Zoning Districts. The technique for doing this has been proven effective in surrounding communities. Following a four step procedure, the goal is to protect natural resources and interconnect areas of open space before adding home sites, roads and lot lines. The result is the same number of homes built on smaller lots while keeping the most important natural areas intact forever. Developers benefit with lower infrastructure costs. We all win!
Development has gobbled up hundreds of acres of land in the township, and more is under threat as large landowners bow to the pressure of acquisitive builders. If we are to preserve Worcester's rural character, the time to act is now.
Historic and Village Preservation
Worcester's villages, especially Fairview Village and Center Point, are in danger of disappearing completely under the threat of commercial development. We have watched time and time again as our historic structures are town down to be replaced by a new commercial building or residential development.
The Worcester Township Planning Commission has been working on an historic preservation ordinance that would require a developer to identify historic resources on a site and design around them,The township needs to adopt the Historical Structures Ordinance, to make sure that we don't lose any more of our historic resources. The unnecessary demolition of our history needs to stop.
We also need to improve the commercial zoning in our villages. We can and should require developers to preserve historic structures and design commercial buildings to blend in with our villages, not dwarf them with big box development. Worcester's historic buildings and villages should not be subject to a developer's every whim.
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR's)
Transferable Development Rights Program Grows in Worcester
For the past 20 years, communities have successfully used state and county open space funding to purchase open space as well as conservation easements on many properties. The goal has been to preserve large tracts of land for habitat, open space, and farming. Today, however, public funding has become extremely limited. Communities must develop innovative ways to continue their open space programs and to assist property owners who want to preserve their undeveloped land. One such tool is transferable development rights (TDRs).
A TDR program allows owners of larger properties to sell or give away the right to develop their property in the future, while retaining ownership of their land. The property can still be sold or left to heirs, but the restrictions on future development cannot be overridden. The program is completely optional for landowners.
Worcester's TDR ordinance allows property owners in certain zoning districts to obtain an official certificate for the number of TDRs on their property, regardless of whether they want to sell their property for development. A landowner may keep this certificate, leave it to heirs, donate it to the township or to a land trust, or sell it. In general, properties of at least 30 acres in the AGR and LPD districts may apply to certify their TDRs.
The TDR program is controlled by the township, which certifies the number of TDRs (development rights) that are available to each property owner who applies to the program. The property owner can then choose whether to keep the TDRs or dispose of them. Once these TDRs are sold or given away, the property from which they originated will be restricted from development forever, using a Covenant that will be filed with the Recorder of Deeds.
This program offers a way for the township to preserve open space and farmland without spending money to buy easements or land. For landowners, it offers the ability to protect their land in a different way than a traditional conservation easement. It also offers them the opportunity to separate the development value of their property from the land itself. This gives landowners increased flexibility for financial and estate planning purposes.
The township has started enacting ordinances allowing TDRs to be used in certain areas in the township, called "receiving areas." The first approved receiving area is Cedars village. Other receiving areas are proposed. These receiving areas may allow increased residential, commercial retail or office space density. Commercial property owners will be allowed to increase the commercial square footage or impervious coverage, up to a certain limit in the ordinance, if they buy the required number of TDRs. The real estate market will determine the value of the TDRs.
FOW encourages interested residents to support Worcester's growing TDR program as part of our continued commitment to preserving open space and the rural heritage of our township.