Building at work in South Lake Union

Development = Conservation

When you walk through South Lake Union, words you might think of include Amazon, Paul Allen, tech, REI, Vulcan, Pink Elephant, growth, MOHAI, development and... conservation?

If conservation is not a word that comes to mind when you think about South Lake Union, you’re not alone. Conservation is possibly the most understated word in the neighborhood, but it’s been a major player in developing the tech-hub we think of today.

South Lake Union is one of the major focal points of the first—and only—program in the country to create a regional marketplace for conservation that also financially supports growth in cities. This program, the Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program (LCLIP), is an award-winning tool designed by Forterra and implemented by King County and the City of Seattle.



How LCLIP Works

In early June, we took a walk in South Lake Union with colleagues from Forterra, King County, and Miller Hull—an architecture firm, to explore this question. We kicked off the tour in the South Lake Union Discovery Center, where there is a detailed model of South Lake Union.

Skip Swenson, Forterra’s VP of Policy & Programming, explained how Forterra foresaw that our region’s farms and forests were at risk due to the pressures of rapid growth and development. In response, Forterra designed a plan that would welcome growth and development, but in the right places—by creating incentives that move development away from rural lands and into our existing cities.


Growing up or out?

Imagine a piece of productive farm land. Legally, the farm land could be sold to a developer to build single family homes—homes that are away from schools, services, and transit.

Now imagine if instead of building homes on that land, the rights to develop that land are sold, but the land stays a farm—forever. Those development rights are sold to a developer who is building a skyscraper in Seattle—South Lake Union and downtown to be precise. The developer can transfer those development rights from the farm to their skyscraper. This enables them to add space, beyond what they would otherwise be able to build.

As a result, there is more residential and office space in the city center and we save the farmland from development. The city is livable and vibrant. People live closer to their place of work. Habitat can still thrive in the beautiful landscape that we love.

This is a program that Forterra designed and King County helped implement called Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Currently, there are several city-county TDR programs in the region.

Transfer of Development Rights in Action

Out on to the streets of South Lake Union. Michael Murphy, King County’s Transfer of Development Rights Program Manager, pointed out cranes and projects where TDR credits were at work, building up—instead of sprawling out. We took a break at 400 Fairview and learned 27 TDR credits helped build the offices and retail space, which in turn protected about 2,160 acres in the Snoqualmie Forest.

Murphy pulled out a map displaying the more than 50,000 acres of farms and forests that were conserved in King County through the TDR program, which will generate over $30 million in funding for infrastructure. 50,000 acres is 2.3 times the size of Manhattan!

As a region, if we plan to grow in our cities, we must consider what makes a place livable. Vibrant neighborhoods and communities, urban parks, pedestrian-oriented development, places to walk your dog or meet a neighbor, and tree-lined streets all a small part of what makes a place livable.