Tacoma adopts TDR, joins regional effort

The Tacoma City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 25, 2012 to adopt its first transfer of development rights (TDR) program. The program will allow Tacoma to promote economic development and growth in its 16 mixed-use centers while protecting important farm and timber lands, wildlife habitat, and Tacoma’s historic buildings.

TDR is an innovative, market-based program that allows for increased urban development in exchange for conserving important lands (often outside of cities). Through individual, voluntary transactions landowners can sell the right to build homes from their farms, forestland or natural areas (sending areas) to areas where growth is desired (receiving areas). Landowners in sending areas have the option of selling the development potential from their property (but retaining ownership and use of the land), while developers pay for the right to a bonus in the receiving area, such as additional height, or more space for residential units and commercial space. When development rights are removed from a property, a conservation easement is placed on the sending site, protecting it forever.

“We are excited about the positive impact TDR can have,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. “It is a fantastic tool that will give developers the flexibility to build high-quality, mixed-use facilities in our urban centers, helping make our city an even greater place to live.”

The TDR ordinance was adopted along with an interlocal agreement between the City and Pierce County to allow transfers between the two. The city also adopted the WA Department of Commerce TDR rule to allow transfers with King and Snohomish Counties. These agreements establish the terms for development right transfers from Counties to Tacoma, with greater detail in the agreement with Pierce County which is important as it specifies which county lands may be conserved.

The City is also considering adopting the Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program. This program expands on TDR by combining it with a tax increment financing tool that helps fund city infrastructure improvements. A Tacoma program could potentially conserve tens of thousands of acres of forest and farmland while providing millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements to enhance the quality of life for its residents. Seattle recently proposed to use this program to provide $27M in street and park improvements to South Lake Union while conserving over 25,000 acres of farms and forests.

“Tacoma’s newly adopted TDR program is a win-win for Pierce County and the City. It allows for the conservation of county resource lands that are integral to our identity and economy while funding improvements in Tacoma,” said Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy.

Nonprofit land conservation and community building organization Forterra worked with the City for nearly four years to help create this TDR program and assisted with the study of the program’s potential benefits for the City. Tacoma’s is the 10th TDR program Forterra helped create in the region and is the 20th overall in the state.

“We are excited to see Tacoma adopt a regional TDR program,” said Gene Duvernoy, Forterra president. “The City’s program has great potential to protect lands and benefit the Tacoma community. This program is truly advancing both the community building and conservation goals of the Cascade Agenda in a meaningful way.”

The Cascade Agenda is a long-range vision and action plan for our region over the next 100 years. It calls for conserving nearly 1.3 million acres of working forests, farms, parks, shoreline and natural areas in the Puget Sound Region while creating livable communities. TDR programs are critical for advancing those goals because they link conservation with growth through the free market. To date, Forterra has helped conserve nearly 10,000 acres of land in Pierce County including the recent successful conservation of properties at Deadman’s Pond and the South Tacoma Wetlands.

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