City of Bainbridge Island, Washington

The City of Bainbridge Island, Washington, population, 3000, is located five miles west of Seattle, across Puget Sound. The City adopted a TDR ordinance in 1996, but it was not identified in time to be included in Beyond Takings and Givings.
The ordinance limited its objective to agricultural land preservation during its first two years.

Bainbridge Island wants to save its remaining farms.

After this initial two-year phase, the ordinance provided for the City to consider expanding potential sending areas to include wetlands, groundwater recharge areas and open space. According to City staff, the program to this day remains focused on agricultural land preservation.

The sending areas consist of all agricultural land. However, the City does not have an agricultural zoning district. Actual farmland is zoned for other uses and interspersed with other uses. Farmland qualifies as a sending area by being ?primarily devoted to agricultural operations.? The ordinance attempts to motivate participation from sending area landowners with a three-to-one transfer ratio, allowing three development rights to be transferred for one dwelling unit that could be located on the sending site by the underlying zoning district.

The sending area owner applies for severance of development rights and is issued a certificate documenting the number of development rights available. To sever rights, the owner must record the certificate and a restrictive easement. To sell or transfer the development rights, the owner must execute and record a deed of development rights.

The zoning code section pertaining to TDR refers to three potential receiving zones. In the Mixed Use Town Center and High School Road districts, baseline floor area ratio (FAR) can be exceeded through the provision of affordable housing, mobile home park retention, public amenities/infrastructure, open space, historic preservation and ferry-related parking as well as ?purchase of development rights?. The code section on this zoning district goes on to say: ?The cost of development rights shall be established by resolution of the city council.? Possibly this wording means that developers in this district are required to use TDRs from a City TDR bank.

In the second category of receiving areas, neighborhood service centers, density can increase by three units per acre using TDR or by five units per acre with TDRs and the provision of public sewer and water. But again, there are other ways of achieving extra density in this district. For example, in Lynwood Center, developers are allowed a 12-unit per acre increase by complying with requirements regarding mixed-uses, public sewer/water and construction of a community center.

In the third receiving area category, the R-4.3 single family residential district, minimum lot size can change from 10,000 square feet to 5,400 square feet when TDR is used in areas mapped as single-family overlay district (R-8SF). In this zoning district, TDR appears to be the only way to exceed baseline density.

To use TDRs in receiving site projects, a request to use TDRs must be a part of the site plan and design review application as well as a copy of the deed of development rights or a contract for the purchase of development rights. Prior to site plan approval, the developer must submit a deed of development rights to the City and record the deed, the site plan and the number of development rights used in the project.

As of May 2003, this program had generated no transfers. According to a member of the Planning Department staff, the program is hampered for at least five reasons.

  • The owners of agricultural land are reluctant to sell TDRs because land values are high and the value of TDRs is still unknown.
  • Confining sending areas to agricultural land has limited the potential TDR supply.
  • Receiving areas are limited.
  • In the downtown, where demand for density is greatest, developers can gain higher density using non-TDR techniques.
  • Staffing is too limited to allow program marketing and facilitation, forcing possible TDR buyers and sellers to find one another and negotiate a price without assistance.

Nevertheless, the City is achieving some of its preservation goals in other ways. Some landowners have donated their development rights to the City for tax benefits. The City also allows developers to achieve higher floor area ratio in the downtown through density charges which will be used to buy development rights as willing sellers are found.