Riverbend Farm
Photo by Bill Blake

Snohomish County Decision Broadens Conservation Options

Even more farmland to be permanently conserved through Transfer of Development Rights

A vote by the Snohomish County Council last week amended zoning along the Highway 99 corridor between Lynnwood and Everett to encourage more compact development near transit.

At the same time, the vote expanded options for farmland conservation by adding areas where new construction can take advantage of a program called transfer of development rights, or TDR for short. Through TDR, a developer can gain additional density for a project in an urban area by purchasing credits from rural farms or forests. Through these voluntary, market-based deals, the homes that could have been built on a farm will now be built along a transit line. The farmer earns a financial return and gets to keep working the land.

Forterra led the design of the program in 2012 and has been collaborating with landowners and developers alike to make TDR a success and expand its use in the county.

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As a result of this decision, a local developer, DevCo, can proceed on a project that would not have been possible under the previous rules. The project will create 150 units of affordable housing for low-income seniors, while conserving over 200 acres of farmland. Forterra has teamed up with DevCo, who specializes in affordable housing, to bring benefits to the community through more efficient land use and conservation of farms.

The vote was the Everett Herald’s top story on Wednesday, May 30th. You can read the story here.

Developers, farmers, foresters, tribes and environmental groups were all on the same side of this issue—a rare combination that reveals the broad support for this innovative work. Building on this success, we’re excited to show that TDR can work in Snohomish County, and are continuing to pursue the use of the tool across the county in Arlington, Mountlake Terrace, City of Snohomish and Everett.

Why TDR?

More than 100,000 people have moved to Seattle in the past ten years—and over one million more are expected to move to the Central Puget Sound Region by 2040, a 27% increase. The jobs, parks, farmers markets, walkability, shared values, access to recreation, and beauty of the region are all draws for this boom. However, with this growth come new challenges and concerns. Namely, how do we make room for everyone while remaining affordable and encouraging growth in the best places—close to transit, jobs, schools, parks and businesses?

That’s where TDR comes in. Transferring of development rights is a win for everyone. TDR focuses on creating sustainable communities by encouraging growth where it is desired while conserving the working lands that are important to our economy, identity, and health.

TDR is particularly impactful in keeping farmers in production to grow our food locally. In Snohomish County and around Washington, many farmers lease most of the land they farm. The incredible growth our region has experienced is causing land values to skyrocket, leaving ownership out of the question for most—in both our cities and our rural communities.

Through TDR, a landowner near Arlington or Puyallup looking to sell farmland can instead sell the development rights off their land, realizing some of the value of their land while keeping it in farming. Instead of that development taking place in the form of a subdivision paving over farmland, a developer can add additional stories to a building project in an area where more growth in and density is desirable, such as Mountlake Terrace or Tacoma.

Since 1996 Forterra has been involved in the creation or revision of 16 TDR programs in Washington State, including the design of the first regional marketplace in the country. These programs have resulted in the conservation of more than 60,000 acres of farms and forest lands. As more people continue to move here we remain committed to partnering with cities and counties to make our communities great places to live while conserving the lands that are vital to our health.

Read more about how TDR works
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