By a 4-1 vote with Commissioner President Kelly D. McConkey (R) dissenting, the Calvert commissioners voted Tuesday, Sept. 15, to create a committee to consider changes to transferable development rights (TDR).

A change to the number of TDRs that would be required to be purchased for new developments in Prince Frederick, Lusby and Solomons was considered by the Calvert County Planning Commission on Aug. 19, but they took no action.

Currently, only one TDR is required to be purchased for building new two- and three-bedroom multifamily dwellings. A planning document proposed to increase that to two and three TDRs, respectively, as a matter of equity.

In May, the commissioners voted to increase the price for a TDR from $3,037 to $4,000.

The TDR program — which pays farmers and other landowners to conserve land and keep it undeveloped — was created in the 1980s, according to Commissioner Earl F. “Buddy” Hance (R). It has been used to focus development on town centers.

“I’m thinking the founders never thought it would go this far,” Commissioner Mike Hart (R) said. “We’ve got a lot of TDRs on the market that we need to get rid of. We need to stop kicking this down the road, board after board after board,” Hart said.

There are 7,673 TDRs currently available, according to county planner Ron Marney.

“Until 2016, five TDRs were required for everything,” including townhouses and apartments, Hance said, adding that it didn’t work for the latter two residential units and the requirements were later changed to exempt them.

Commissioner Steve Weems (R) noted that an ad hoc committee was previously created in 2015 to look to changes to the program. Hance said he was involved in that process, which took several months and recommended a sliding scale for purchases of TDRs. Instead, the commissioners at the time voted to proceed with only one TDR for one-, two- and three-bedroom units, he said.

“Developers are saying we’re trying to sneak it in,” Hance said, referring to a change in the TDR requirements. “But we haven’t even started the public process.”

Hance noted that county staff has already begun receiving public comments “out of the blue,” even though they haven’t officially asked for any yet.

“There’s only a few developers building” right now, Hart said. “We know who they are.”

Planning Director Mary Beth Cook said the county has TDR exemptions for “workforce housing” and community care retirement homes. She noted that subsequent sales of homes are not affected by the TDR requirement.

McConkey said he didn’t agree with making any changes during the COVID-19 pandemic and while county staff are updating the Prince Frederick master plan.

Cook said that, in regard to text amendments to town center master plans, county staff will ask for a moratorium on them at some point. “We’re not far enough along in the process yet,” she said. County planning staff is only currently working on updating the Prince Frederick master plan, although a plan update for Dunkirk is next.

“If we can’t do this during COVID, then we need to shut down the other stuff,” Hance said, referring to the Prince Frederick master plan update, for example. “It’s just as important to me,” he said of adjusting the TDR requirements.

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