County Council approves countywide transfer of Development Rights Program

Participation in the TDR program for landowners and cities is voluntary and respects private property rights.
By Councilmember Dave Somers | Oct 22, 2012

The protection of farm and forest lands received a boost by the Snohomish County Council with the passage of a countywide Transfer of Development Rights program.

Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a market-based mechanism that promotes growth where desirable, while conserving areas important to the county’s rural economy such as farms and forests.

Through individual, voluntary transactions, development rights are transferred from privately owned farms and forests to areas that can better accommodate additional growth.

Landowners are paid for the development value of their property.  They retain ownership of the land and may continue using it for farming or timber production.

Developers purchasing the TDR credits use them to acquire bonuses such as increased building heights, more square footage or additional units than what would otherwise be allowed.

“This will protect valuable farm and forest lands from development pressures, conserving them for today and future generations” said Councilmember Dave Somers who sponsored the ordinance.  “I’m grateful to the diverse group of stakeholders who came together to help us identify how to make this a win-win for everyone.”

Snohomish County launched a TDR pilot program in 2005 with the City of Arlington while the City of Snohomish established their own earlier this year.  Both cities allow TDR credits from county farm land to be used within areas they are seeking to revitalize.  The cities of Everett and Mountlake Terrace are also considering the use of similar programs.

Last year, the State of Washington adopted a regional TDR program that creates a market for development rights across Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

Cities are encouraged to participate in the regional program through the authorization of special financing tools to support growth through infrastructure investments.  Ten cities in Snohomish County are eligible to participate.

“The agriculture community has long supported the approval of a countywide TDR program” said Brian Bookey, a local farmer and member of the county’s Agriculture Advisory Board. “The council has taken an important step towards protecting our remaining farmlands and to keep farmers farming.”

Conservation and community-building organization Forterra played a central role in bringing together a wide range of stakeholders and crafting policies that benefit all participants.

“People choose to live in Snohomish County for the job opportunities, choice of housing options, beautiful surroundings and quality of life.  As the county continues to grow, TDR can play a role in promoting vibrant communities, protecting our resource industries, and retaining rural character” said Gene Duvernoy, President of Forterra.  “This decision demonstrates the county’s commitment to sustainability and prosperity.”


The ordinance adopted by the County Council:


  • Identifies all designated farm and forest lands as eligible for conservation
  • Provides access to farm and forest development rights in Snohomish County for cities that choose to participate in the state-authorized regional TDR program
  • Establishes select areas in unincorporated Snohomish County where developers may use TDR under certain conditions
  • Establishes policies for using TDR credits in select areas of unincorporated Snohomish County

“It’s exciting to see the TDR program expand” said Council Chairman Brian Sullivan.  “I believe this will prove to be a valuable tool in making sure that farming remains an important part of our county’s culture for generations to come.”

“We appreciate the collaborative approach taken by the council in establishing the countywide TDR program and are pleased by the outcome.” said Sam Anderson, CEO of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.  “By generating new opportunities for using TDR, the program will help meet the demand for housing in our urban areas while protecting farm and forest lands that contribute to Snohomish County’s overall quality of life.”

Participation in the TDR program for landowners and cities is voluntary and respects private property rights.  The council will continue to work together with the public and various stakeholders to identify additional incentives to maximize the effectiveness of the program.


Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.