Kittitas County, Washington

Kittitas County, population 39,400 (2008) is located between the crest of the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River, roughly 50 miles east of Seattle. It is connected to the Puget Sound metro area by Interstate Highway 90, which may partly explain why the County grew by 20 percent between the year 2000 and 2009. Much of Kittitas County is protected in the Wenatchee National Forest, the Yakima Firing Center Military Reservation and four wildlife preserves. Nevertheless, the County wants to protect is resource base in the face of increasing growth. In December 2009, the County adopted a TDR program designed to preserve farms, forests and floodplains.

In the Kittitas County TDR ordinance, sending areas must be a privately-owned parcel (or multiple contiguous parcels) meeting any of the following criteria.

  • Farmland when the following requirements are met
    • Within an agriculture or forest zone with a minimum 20-acre lot size requirement
    • At least 20 acres in size
    • Located within the Agricultural Production District comprehensive plan designation
    • Qualified for current use taxation
    • Possessing a full market value higher than its resource value.
  • Forest land when the following requirements are met
    • Within the 80-acre Commercial Forest or 20-acre Forest & Range zoning district
    • At least 20 acres in size
    • Privately owned
    • Qualified for current use taxation
    • Possessing a full market value higher than its resource value.
  • Frequently Flooded Area
  • Designated as a sending area in a TDR agreement with a city

To participate, an easement must be recorded on the sending site requiring the property to be maintained in the use and condition that qualified the land as a TDR sending site. While the easement restricts future development, a landowner may reserve some on-site development potential. The number of TDRs available for transfer is calculated by multiplying the maximum density of the current zoning by the site area minus any development potential that the landowner has chosen to retain. The County will select non-profit organizations or quasi-governmental agencies to grant, manage and steward TDR conservation easements. The easement is not recorded until the TDRs have been transferred.

Although the easements are considered permanent, Kittitas’s TDR ordinance includes a process for opting out if the County Commissioners make three findings.

  • The owners have suffered a demonstrated hardship beyond their control.
  • They have purchased equivalent TDRs.
  • The outcome would result in an equal or greater public benefit than maintenance of the original easement.

Eligible receiving areas include the following.

  • Pursuant to an agreement with the county, receiving areas can be located within cities where growth is encouraged under the Growth Management Act
  • Sites in Urban Growth Areas with density greater than six units per acre
  • Sites where applications have been submitted for upzonings and other entitlements such as Performance Based Cluster Plats, Planned Unit Developments and Master Planned Resorts.

Receiving site requirements vary depending on the nature of the entitlement as well as the underlying zoning. For example, in a Performance Based Cluster Plat, the amount of bonus density achieved by TDR must be 50 percent in the Rural 3 and Ag 3 Zones, 75 percent in the Rural 5 and Ag 5 Zones and 100 percent in the Agriculture 20 and Forest & Range 20 Zones.

Receiving site developers must comply with TDR requirements upon final plat approval or issuance of building permits if the receiving site project does not involve a land division. Compliance can only occur using actual TDRs. The ordinance does not provide an option for developers to comply by making a cash payment in lieu of actual TDRs.

The TDR ordinance was accompanied by comprehensive plan amendments that establish the goals for the program in general, including an objective requiring Kittitas County to collaborate with cities to encourage the preservation of farmland, resource lands and forests. The ordinance allows Kittitas County to offer cities amenity funding as an incentive for them to enter into an agreement creating TDR receiving areas.

Prior to ordinance adoption, 480 acres of the 1,465-acre Parker Ranch were preserved when the owners sold TDRs as part of a pilot project funded by the State of Washington in cooperation for the Kittitas County government.