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 urban “receiving areas.”

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

The current price of a TDR sold from the Joint Upper Blue Bank is $92,590 and the price of a TDR sold from the Countywide Bank is $37,630.

Upper Blue TDR Program

The Upper Blue Basin TDR Program was initiated in 2000 and has been the most successful TDR program in the county. In 19 years it has protected 2,000 acres and generated approximately $4 million to be recycled for more open space purchases. The success of the Upper Blue TDR Program stems from the joint efforts of the County and towns of Breckenridge and Blue River to implement the program, and more importantly the public foresight, initiative and support to develop the program.

The Upper Blue Basin is about 80,400 acres in size with a permanent resident population of approximately 9,500 residents. Roughly 78 percent of the basin is national forest system lands, the majority of which comprises undeveloped mountainsides. The primary areas of development are within and adjacent to the towns of Blue River and Breckenridge, in close proximity to the valley floor of the Blue River.

The Upper Blue Basin backcountry consists of hundreds of private mining claims that are often located in sensitive environmental locations and on ridgelines or in above-timberline locations. These mining claims have the ability to be developed for residential purposes. Development on these claims could subsequently obstruct valued viewsheds and recreational access to national forest system lands. Thus, the initial and primary goal of the Upper Blue TDR regulations was to implement a program to help protect backcountry areas, resources and open spaces on the mountains surrounding the towns of Breckenridge and Blue River from residential development.

Owners of backcountry parcels may voluntarily participate in the Upper Blue 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 (areas within or near the Town of Breckenridge or Blue River). There is a market for TDRs because county and town policies prohibit the upzoning of land (i.e., adding more units of density) unless TDRs are acquired.

Important components to making the Upper Blue TDR Program work are the development of the Backcountry (BC) Zoning District and the Upper Blue TDR Bank. In conjunction with the development of the Upper Blue TDR Program regulations, the hundreds of private mining claims in the basin 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.

Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank

The Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank provides a benefit to potential users of TDRs and was created as a way to help bring prospective purchasers and sellers of TDRs together. A backcountry 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 Joint Upper Blue TDR Bank allows either party to voluntarily come to one known location to complete these arrangements. The county administers the TDR Bank, in coordination with the Town of Breckenridge. 

One TDR is equal to 20 acres of backcountry property (with a couple of exceptions) and in 2020 is sold by the County for $92,590 or approximately $4,630 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 since January 1, 2000, the year the TDR program was established. 

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 $2,800 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 $350 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. 

Since it was initiated, the Upper Blue TDR Program has protected 1,800 acres of the identified backcountry area in the Upper Blue Basin. 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 27 wetland lots, totaling about 14 acres.
Based on the success of the 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 the basin has had one transaction protecting 20 acres. The Tenmile Basin TDR regulations were adopted in July 2006, and the basin has had one transaction protecting 193.93 acres. The Snake River Basin has had a TDR program in place since 1998 and has had nine separate TDR transactions protecting approximately 300.43 acres.

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 the 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 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, Tenmile and Upper Blue Basin Accounts: The value of development rights sold from these respective accounts is calculated in accordance with the Summit County TDR Price Calculation Methodology, which was last approved by the BOCC on July 24, 2012 and is kept on file in the Summit
    County Planning Department. The methodology uses the following information to annually adjust the price of a development right: the sales price of a development right from the previous year as a base (minus the previous year’s administrative fee), the percent change in the appraised value of all vacant Backcountry zoned properties in the upper three basins as determined by the County Assessor’s most recent 2-year appraisal period/schedule, and a 10% administrative fee. One TDR sold from each of these three Countywide TDR Bank accounts is equal to 20 acres of backcountry property (with a couple of exceptions) and in 2020 is sold by the County for $37,630 or approximately $1,882 per acre.