Program Background

TDR Program Background

Summit County’s Transferable Development Rights (TDR) program protects Summit County’s natural resources by allowing development rights to be voluntarily transferred from rural, backcountry “sending” areas to more urban “receiving” areas. Backcountry areas consist of hundreds of private mining claims that are often located in sensitive environmental locations and on ridgelines or in above-timberline locations. Provided they meet all the criteria of review, landowners of these mining claims have the right to develop them for residential purposes. Development on these claims could subsequently obstruct valued viewsheds and recreational access to National Forest system lands. Thus, the primary goal of the TDR program is to help protect the backcountry character, natural resources, and scenic, open viewsheds of the mountains surrounding the more urban areas from residential development. 

An important component to making the TDR Program work is the development of the Backcountry (BC) Zoning District. Hundreds of private mining claims in backcountry areas were rezoned to the Backcountry Zoning District. The purpose and intent of the Backcountry Zoning District is to retain the relatively undeveloped character of backcountry areas while allowing for very low impact development. However, the Backcountry Zoning District provides trade-offs to backcountry property owners. For example, there are limitations on the size of structures that can be built in exchange for relaxed county road improvement standards to access these private mining claims.
 
Owners of backcountry zoned parcels may voluntarily participate in the TDR program. In exchange for giving up their right to develop a backcountry parcel, the property owners are monetarily compensated. When a property owner is compensated, the development rights associated with their property are transferred into areas that can more appropriately accommodate development (i.e., areas within or near the more urban development of the towns). There is a market for TDRs because County (and the Town of Breckenridge) policies prohibit the upzoning of land (i.e., adding more units of density) unless TDRs are acquired.

TDR Banks provides a benefit to potential users of TDRs and were created as a way to help bring prospective purchasers and sellers of TDRs together. A backcountry zoned property owner who is interested in selling their development rights would normally have to locate a potential purchaser on their own. Vice versa, a developer would normally have to do extensive research to locate prospective sellers. The TDR Banks allows either party to voluntarily come to one known location to complete these arrangements.

Minimum lot size in Backcountry zoning is 20 acres, therefore one development right sold from the TDR Bank generally equates to 20 acres of backcountry zoned land protected within designated TDR sending areas. Therefore, the intent of setting a price for one development right is to generally correlate with the cost of purchasing 20 acres of Backcountry zoned land. 

The current price of a TDR sold from the Joint Upper Blue Bank and the Countywide Upper Blue Account is $266,870 and the price of a TDR sold from the Countywide Tenmile and Snake River Accounts is $133,155.

Find more information below on the program’s successes, history and background, including information on the Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank and the Countywide TDR Bank.

Joint Upper Blue TDR Program

The Joint Upper Blue TDR Program was initiated in 2000 between the County and the Town of Breckenridge and has been the most successful TDR program in the county. In 23 years it has protected approximately 2,200 acres and generated over $4.5 million to be recycled for more open space purchases. The success of the Joint Upper Blue TDR Program stems from the joint efforts of the County and Towns of Breckenridge to implement the program, and more importantly the public foresight, initiative and support to develop the program. 

The Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank allows development rights on County "sending” areas that have been acquired jointly by the Town and County to be transferred to Town or County “receiving” areas. The Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank provides a known location where owners of sending area properties in the Upper Blue Basin could go to sell development rights and where owners of receiving area parcels could go to purchase development rights. 

One TDR is equal to 20 acres of backcountry property (with a couple of exceptions) and in 2024 is sold by the County for $266,870 or approximately $13,345 per acre. This price is adjusted annually based on the median sales price of all vacant backcountry zoned property sales within the Upper Blue Basin in the preceding seven years. At the time of each TDR purchase, an administrative fee must also be paid to the County Planning Department.  Currently, the base administrative fee is $3,345 for any transaction of one development right or a fraction of a development right.  For transactions involving more than one development right, an additional incremental fee of $405 must be paid for each additional development right or portion of a development right.  This administrative fee is adjusted annually in March of each year based on the percentage increase in the hourly staff rate published annually in the Summit County Planning Department Development Review Fee Schedule. 

In addition, the program has now been amended to allow platted properties in designated receiving areas containing high quality wetlands to possibly qualify as TDR sending areas. To date, the program has protected 28 wetland lots, totaling about 14 acres.

Based on the success of the Joint Upper Blue program, in 2006 the Snake River and Tenmile basins developed TDR program regulations almost identical to the Upper Blue’s. Additionally, rezoning of approximately 341 backcountry claims to the Backcountry zoning district in these basins was completed in August 2007. The County has been working to achieve continued growth, success and a more coordinated approach to utilization of TDRs throughout the county.

Countywide TDR Program & Basin-Specific Information

The Lower Blue Basin TDR regulations were adopted in September 2007 and has had two transactions protecting 55 acres. The Snake River Basin has had a TDR program in place since 1998 and has had two TDR transactions protecting approximately 200 acres. Tenmile Basin TDR regulations were adopted in July 2006.

Countywide TDR Bank

On September 14, 2010, the Summit Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the establishment of a Countywide TDR Bank with separate accounts for the Lower Blue, Snake River, Tenmile and Upper Blue Basins, to provide a more uniform framework for the transfer of development rights within unincorporated Summit County. The Countywide TDR Bank was established, separately from the Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank, to provide a known location where owners of sending area properties throughout all areas of the unincorporated county could go to sell development rights and where owners of receiving area parcels could go to purchase development rights, to be used within any of the County’s four basins. The County is authorized to issue Certificates of Development Rights to third parties for use on approved TDR receiving sites through the Countywide TDR Bank.

The value of a development right sold by the Countywide TDR Bank is determined as follows:

  • Lower Blue Basin Account: No set value has been established for development rights sold from the Lower Blue Basin account. The value of development rights sold by the Lower Blue Basin account is determined by the County on a case-by-case basis and is the fair market value of a development right.
  • Snake River and Tenmile Accounts: This price is adjusted annually based on the median sales price of all vacant backcountry zoned property sales within the Tenmile and Snake River Basins in the preceding seven years. At the time of each TDR purchase, an administrative fee must also be paid to the County Planning Department.  Currently, the base administrative fee is $3,345 for any transaction of one development right or a fraction of a development right. For transactions involving more than one development right, an additional incremental fee of $405 must be paid for each additional development right or portion of a development right. This administrative fee is adjusted annually in March of each year based on the percentage increase in the hourly staff rate published annually in the Summit County Planning Department Development Review Fee Schedule.  
  • One TDR sold from each of these Countywide TDR Bank accounts is equal to 20 acres of backcountry property (with a couple of exceptions) and in 2024 is sold by the County for $133,155 or approximately $6,658 per acre.
  • Upper Blue Basin Account: The price of TDR sold from the Countywide Account in the Upper Blue Basin uses the same methodology as the Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank.