Guest Editorial |

Guest Editorial

I hope to shed light on the confusion surrounding Summit County’s involvement in TDRs (transfers of development rights). Having served on the planning commission during the time the TDRs were enacted, as well as chair of the TDR subcommittee, I not only had a front-row seat but was a key participant.


A central theme of the Basin General Plan is to halt urban sprawl across hillsides and meadows and promote the clustering of densities in town, village, and resort centers, where development can be serviced more efficiently with less impact to traffic and the environment. The General Plan suggests TDRs as one way to achieve this goal.

The county has never had a formal TDR system, but the county did approved three TDRs from 1999 to 2002 for developments that had been vested under previous codes. At that time, no funds were available for acquiring open space. All three projects were adjacent to the Swaner Nature Preserve, a crown jewel of the Basin. It seemed the TDRs were the county’s last resort to preserve these lands.

TDR properties at The Canyons

All three TDRs involved properties at the Canyons. The Canyons was processed through the Resort Matrix of the code, which includes a requirement for a TDR component. To meet this standard, the Canyons provided several receiving areas for density transfers. The properties included 15 acres known as Snyderville West, parcels for resort-type density, and several Colony lots. Under county supervision, most of the Colony TDR lots were spent in transferring densities within the Canyons itself. The three TDRs for densities originating outside the Canyons are as follows:

Mountain Meadows TDR

The Mountain Meadows parcel consisted of 60 lots on 94 acres in the middle of the Snyderville Meadows. The Canyons recruited an anonymous investor who purchased the parcel and deeded it to Swaner Nature Preserve. The donor received six of the Colony TDR lots and roughly half of the density allocated for the Snyderville West property.

Creekside TDR

Creekside was a 121-acre project vested for 17 lots in the northeast corner of the Snyderville meadow. Swaner Nature Preserve purchased the land and then asked the TDR committee for help in transferring the density. Swaner had recruited an anonymous investor who would purchase the density if it were relocated to the Colony. The investor was a principal in the Colony project. Swaner would use the proceeds to pay off the loan it had obtained to purchase the Creekside parcel.

A TDR agreement was enacted that authorized the creation of 20 additional Colony lots to accommodate the Creekside density 17 for the anonymous investor (who was obliged to buy the land and install the infrastructure) and three for the county to use for future TDRs. About half of the lots were configured on plats already in the pipeline, in places that could not be seen from the highways, while the balance were to be placed in future phases of the Colony completely hidden from view.

Somerset TDR

Somerset had been vested under a previous code for 154 townhouse units on 35 acres situated on a prominent bluff behind the Red Barn Nursery, across from the outlet mall. The project blueprints had been submitted for approval and construction was about to begin. A TDR agreement was achieved with the owner, MJM, that transferred densities to a handful of parcels as follows: 19.75 of the density units were sent to two small development plots owned by MJM, 56.25 were sent to the SW-2 and SW-3 parcels at the Canyons, and 74 were sent to the Newpark town center, which was also owned by MJM. The four remaining lots were left on the Somerset site and extinguished with the filing of a conservation easement by MJM in favor of Swaner Nature Preserve.

The density transferred to Newpark totaled 236,800 square feet, which is double the density for 74 of the Somerset units. The other transfers were made on a 1-for-1 basis. The agreement also provided for the county to receive 112,000 square feet of density in Newpark. When the 112,000 square feet of density for the county is factored in, the incentive for the Newpark transfer amounted to only 6,400 square feet, or the equivalent of four residential units. As a result of the negotiations to expand Newpark to make room for the additional density, MJM donated 65 acres to the Swaner Nature Preserve.

The Snyderville Basin Recreation District purchased the county’s 112,000 square feet in Newpark for a price of $1 million for its field house site.


The TDR agreement obligated the county to provide marketable title for the SW-2 and SW-3 parcels within 90 days. Complications arose in trying to work out cost-sharing arrangements for the road and utilities among ASC (the Canyons owner) and other property owners. These complications hindered the county’s ability to grant title within the timeframe required.

In the binding arbitration that ensued, MJM was awarded $4,826,314 as compensation for its costs and lost profits. To satisfy the ruling, the county assigned MJM four of the Colony TDR lots and paid them almost all of the $1 million the county received from the Recreation District. MJM relinquished its interest in the SW-2 and SW-3 parcels, which have reverted to the county, and which are now combined into the LV-4 and LV-9 parcels in Lower Village. The value of these parcels offsets, in large part, the loss of value suffered in the arbitration ruling.

Settlement of Canyons TDR lots

In the November 1999 Canyons SPA amendment, five Colony TDR lots were assigned to the county. As previously noted, three Colony TDR lots were assigned to the county in connection with the Creekside TDR. One additional Colony lot was added when the Mines Ventures development was incorporated into the Colony. (The county had been assigned one of the Mines Ventures lots in the consent agreement for that project.) Thus, the county had claim to nine Colony TDR lots prior to the arbitration ruling. After the dust had settled on the Somerset TDR, five Colony TDR lots remained.

Of the five Colony TDR lots, three were platted and two were to be included in future phases. Issues of infrastructure assessments, property-damage claims, and marketing restrictions, along with uncertainty as to when the unplatted lots would be available, led county officials in 2006 to accept a bird-in-the-hand cash payment of $4,540,000 for its interest in the five remaining Colony TDR lots. That money was deposited in a fund set up expressly for acquiring open space.

Summary and Conclusions

The three TDR projects had been approved or vested under previous codes. Because development was imminent, and no open-space fund existed, the TDRs were the only viable means for preserving these prized lands.

The county did not buy the TDR receiving properties; they were provided as a requirement in the county’s Resort Matrix. The county did not pay for any infrastructure costs; they were factored into the settlement for the Colony lots.

To date, the TDR transactions have helped preserve 331 acres in the Swaner Nature Preserve 90 acres from the Mountain Meadows TDR, 121 acres from the Creekside TDR, and 100 acres (35 at the Somerset site and 65 adjacent to Newpark) from the Somerset TDR.

Additionally, $4,540,000 has been deposited in the county’s open space fund. Thus far, those funds have been used in the acquisition of the 40-acre Roberts Parcel, the 184-acre purchase (with Park City) at Quarry Mountain, and the 20-acre Koleman parcel.

There’s still considerable value in the county’s remaining TDR entitlements at the Canyons. They include 20 hotel units in the resort core and parcels LV-4 and LV-9 in the Lower Village, comprising 6 ½ acres, which are approved for 185,000 square feet of residential, commercial, and resort density.

All of the transferred density was converted from full-time dwellings, in suburban configurations that burden service providers, to commercial and resort-based densities that contribute to the tax base.

All of the TDRs were discussed and voted on in public meetings of both the planning commission and board of county commissioners. None of the present planning commissioners or county commissioners were involved in approving the TDRs

The bottom line in hindsight, the TDR at the SW-2 and SW-3 parcels could have been managed differently for a better result, but that setback pales in significance to the wealth of community benefits the TDRs as a whole are providing at absolutely no cost to Summit County citizens.

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