City of Bainbridge Island, Washington

The City of Bainbridge Island, Washington, population, 25,298 (2019), is located five miles west of Seattle, across Puget Sound. The City adopted a TDR ordinance in 1996 and subsequently amended it to protect environmentally sensitive land and open space as well as farmland.

Bainbridge Island wants to save its remaining farms.

A 2006 study offered eight reasons why the program was underperforming. 1) The program was complex, unclear, and underpromoted. 2) Lack of facilitation. 3) The program goals were easier to achieve in other ways such as strict development regulations and outright purchase with the general fund, bond revenues, and donations. 4) Receiving sites were limited by size, infrastructure, and zoning capacity. 5) Developers found alternative methods of gaining extra density to be cheaper including a generous clustering mechanism as well as downtown amenities, additional parking, affordable housing, and, particularly, the ability to purchase bonus floor area at from $18 to $32 per square foot, which was cheaper than the cost of buying TDRs from sending sites. 6) Inadequate incentives for small farms to participate. 7) There was high variability in the profitability of bonus density depending on the nature of the receiving site development. 8) The value of one sending site development right was estimated to be from three to ten times more valuable than the value of one receiving site development right (Makers 2006).

Another study of this program in 2019 made several similar recommendations including increasing the amount of bonus density and extra building height attainable by using TDR, reducing other methods for developers to achieve bonus density such as underground parking, FAR purchases, and on-site open space, and providing a cash payment alternative that the city can use to purchase conservation easements (ECONorthwest 2019).

Following amendments in 2011 and 2017, Chapter 18.27 of the Bainbridge Island Municipal Code states that the TDR program’s purpose is to preserve wetlands, high vulnerability recharge zones, farmland and open space. Any land outside city centers potentially qualifies as a sending site. Agricultural sending sites are allocated three TDRs for every unused development right as determined by underlying zoning; all other sending sites are allocated one TDR per unused development right.  

Receiving areas include zones in centers as well as an urban single-family overlay district. The bonus development permissible through TDR varies between these zones. For example, in the Winslow Mixed-Use Town Center District, TDR can be used to increase density in the R8 and R14 zones by 50 percent while TDR can increase density in the Neighborhood Centers by either three or five units per acre depending on the availability of sewer, water, and affordable housing.   


ECONorthwest. 2019. City of Bainbridge Island: Transfer of Development Rights and Inclusionary Zoning Assessment. Accessed 9-4-20 at

Makers. 2006. City of Bainbridge Island, Washington: Transfer of Development Rights Program Review. Accessed 9-4-20 at–App?bidId=