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TDC101 Putting the Pieces Together

Example: Larimer County, Colorado

There were plans as early as the 1970’s that described the regions’ vision of maintaining separation between the cities of Fort Collins and Loveland. As the communities expanded towards each other, options were discussed to achieve the goal of city separation for the purpose of open space and wheat fields. Transferable Development Units (TDU) program was introduced as a tool to more fairly implement down zoning that resulted from the regional plan between Fort Collins and Loveland in 1995.

Initially, legal and planning consultants were brought in to develop the TDU program. After a short time that approach changed and a facilitator who helped the community realize an up to date vision for their landscape, was brought in instead. Once the vision of separate communities was reaffirmed work began on establishing the tools to achieve the vision.

State law called Planned Unit Development (PUD) already allowed transferring density from one property to another. A local developer owned land north of Fossil Creek Reservoir which was identified in the County’s Master Plan as rural residential or as a TDU receiving site. To initiate that development process the developer purchased land south of the Reservoir and transferred density from it to the land north of the Reservoir. This was the first step towards the creation of a more formal program.


Larimer County’s transferable development right program is called a Transfer of Density Units Program. It is geographically specific to a sending area between Fort Collins and Loveland and to a receiving area called the Fossil Creek Reservoir Area. Its purpose is to maintain significant natural areas, views of the foothills, and farmland between the two cities and to focus development north of the Fossil Creek Reservoir while avoiding development in areas south of and immediately surrounding the reservoir that are important for protecting wildlife habitat and area within the Airport Critical Zone.

TDUs are established on a checklist basis. There is a baseline determination of 114.5% of density allowed by the current zoning assigned as TDUs in a sending area. The baseline can then be increased for sites that include significant natural resources, community buffers, and corridors for wildlife migration or hiking, agriculture, park sites, historic landmarks or important scenic views. Conversely available TDUs can be decreased on sending sites of 40 acres or less, low development potential, property location and existing development. Once the number of TDUs is established the landowner receives a certificate that is in effect for two years. The landowner can sell all or some of the TDUs. Once sold, the landowner has a covenant in favour of the county registered on their title that restricts all future development of the sending parcel. On the receiving sites one and half units can be built for each TDU purchased.

This program is administered by Planning and Building Services Division of Larimer County.

Key Lessons

The planners found it quite straight forward to set the sending areas. The goals of what was to be conserved were very clear. It was however more difficult to set the receiving areas. There is a perception that there will be concerns from the neighbours of increased densities. That the “not in my back yard” sentiments will be expressed. It was brought up that “Good Urban Planning” is necessary. That means talking to landowners and gaining input on what people want their community to look like and showing people what these TDU receiving site communities could be like.

It was identified that having a “champion” (e.g. a long standing community member who has an interest in the end result) or two was very important to the success for this project. In the early stages of the program it was felt that there was high public support which was likely a result of significant publicity through newspaper articles. As the Fossil Creek development has been completed and there are no other receiving sites there is likely less public knowledge now.

It was also pointed out there needs to be incentives for landowners and developers to use the program. In Larimer County they used a multiplier of 1.5 to encourage uptake by developers. Essentially that means for every TDU purchased the developer can develop 1.5 units.

Larimer County has unsuccessfully tried to re-create similar programs to the Fossil Creek Reservoir Project in other areas. It is felt that the right timing, market, and environment are essential to the success of a program. As well as the TDU program, the County uses two other programs – Rural Land Use Process and Parks and Open Space to achieve open space, environmental, and agricultural conservation.

The Rural Land Use Process is administered by the Rural Land Use Centre and is a way for landowners to develop their land within the current zoning rules but by using clustering techniques and then applying conservation easements to the remainder of the land. There is some discussion at the centre about using a process similar to a TDU program to move some lots from one RLUP property to another property, either in the RLUP or not.

The Parks and Open Space program uses funds acquired through a County wide ¼ cent sales and use tax. The mission of the program is to protect and preserve significant open space, natural areas, wildlife habitat, and develop parks and trails for present and future generations. The open lands are intended to provide opportunities for leisure, human renewal and protection of natural and cultural resources. They use fee simple and conservation easement purchase and donations to secure land. The goal is to hold 50% in fee simple and 50% in conservation easement. They select the land they are interested in protecting with a Land Use Evaluation System that considers soil, water, and social factors.


The Fossil Creek development is complete. The density of the development was increased between eight and 10 times what it would have been had the program not been used with 721 units being transferred. 503 acres were protected over seven years in the sending areas. Two developers participated in the program. No secondary markets involving real estate agents or brokers have developed in Larimer County.



What is a TDC Program?

The Why, What, How and Who's of TDCs

Miistakis Reports

Government of Alberta


Papers and Reports

Web Resources



Support Organizations and Consultants

American Examples

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Also, check out our full list of TDC Resources.