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This project was conducted in collaboration with David Hedinger in Lewiston’s City Planning Office in order to assess the feasibility of a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program in Lewiston. The overall aim of this project was to apply scholarly literature, findings from case studies, and input from experienced professionals to determine what successful TDR programs look like, the factors they possess, and the conditions present.

The primary problem that TDR programs seek to address is urban sprawl, or the slow spread of development outside of the urban centers into the rural fringes. Urban sprawl has two chief components: 1) it leads to the loss of valuable environmental assets, open space, and potential agricultural land to development; and 2) it pulls money and investment outside of urban centers and leaves them economically depressed and sometimes even blighted (Bruegmann 2005, 160). In terms of Lewiston, while on a smaller scale than many other cities across the country, the problems of urban sprawl are still being felt. A TDR program, which allows a landowner to voluntarily relinquish their right to develop on their rural land and sell that right to a developer looking to increase density in the urban or suburban growth zones, has been a proven to be a reasonable and cost effective way to mitigate the problems of sprawl.

A successful TDR program, however, requires certain conditions and factors to be present. Many TDR programs across the country and even in Maine have failed because they were either improperly designed or under-stimulated by market conditions. The leading cause of failure in a TDR program is a lack of demand for high density development (Pruetz & Standridge 2009, 80). Without this necessary demand there is no driving force that will spur a TDR program into motion. Additionally, we found that the most effective TDR programs at preserving land are those administered at the county, regional, or state level (King County 2014; Montgomery County 2008; Pinelands 2009).

Our primary findings show that there are many factors that lead to successful TDR programs. And while Lewiston may possess the physical makeup of a successful TDR program: designated urban growth zones and large tracts of rural and agricultural land, it still lacks many factors that may be difficult to stimulate in the short term. We conclude with these remarks and offer a few alternatives to traditional TDR programs that could also be used to preserve land and promote smart growth.