Pierce County, Washington

Pierce County stretches from the west side of Puget Sound 60 miles east into the Cascade Mountain Range. The center of the County includes Tacoma and other rapidly-growing urban areas in the greater Seattle region. But the western side of Pierce County consists largely of lightly populated peninsulas and islands while the eastern half features Mount Rainier National Park, the Mt. Baker/Snoqualmie National Forest and several wilderness areas. Despite the relatively high percentage of preserved land, Pierce County and many of its incorporated cities have preserved additional land using multiple approaches. In 2007, the County adopted a TDR program.

The Pierce County TDR program is designed to preserve farmland, forest land, public trails or the habitat of endangered species.

In the Pierce County TDR program, sending areas must be located within resource areas or rural farms as designated in the Comprehensive Plan or areas identified in an interlocal agreement between the County and a city. To qualify for TDRs, preservation must result in a protection of farmland, forest land, public trails or the habitat of endangered species.

To qualify for the TDR program, an owner must record an easement meeting specifications that differ depending on the zoning of the parcel and/or the nature of the resources to be protected. For example, if a site qualifies because it provides habitat for endangered species, the easement can only allow habitat maintenance/restoration; however, prior farming and forestry can continue. Sending sites in floodplains must be at least 80 acres in size and protected by easements that allow only forestry in accordance with a forest stewardship plan. The easements recorded on land zoned Agricultural Resource Land can allow no more than one residence per parcel with the possibility for one extra dwelling for farm laborers.

The number of TDRs available to a sending site is calculated by subtracting from a parcel’s total land area the portion occupied by housing or reserved for future residential development in the easement. The remainder is divided by the minimum lot size established by the zoning of the sending site with the exception of land near urban growth boundaries and designated Agricultural Resource Land (granted one TDR per acre) and other land designed Agricultural Resource Land in other specified locations (granted one TDR per five acres.)  A landowner may receive one TDR per each legal lot preserved if that yields more TDRs than the formula described above.

The ordinance provides for three types of receiving sites: 1) Receiving sites located within incorporated cities (appropriate for growth as documented in Countywide Planning Policies and the Growth Management Act) and subject to an interlocal agreement; 2) Sites where amendments to the Comprehensive Plan have been requested; and 3) Sites where planned unit developments have been requested.

When receiving sites are created because of requests for comprehensive plan amendments or planned unit developments, the number of TDRs required is based on a determination of the environmental/infrastructure impact generated by the proposed project minus the mitigation to be provided by the developer through other means. Compliance through a cash-in-lieu option is also available. In this option, the required payment is one half of the difference in fair market value of the receiving site at its current zoning and the fair market value at the requested density. These values are determined by an appraisal performed by an appraiser agreed upon between the receiving site landowners and the County.

The Pierce County ordinance creates a Development Rights Bank which uses all forms of conservation funding to purchase development rights from qualified sending sites and sell these rights to developers for use in qualified receiving sites. When the Bank buys rights using funding that prohibits their resale, the Bank retires those rights under the County PDR program. The Bank can buy rights at a price calculated as their value to the sending site and sell rights to developers for a price that equals or exceeds their value to the receiving site. These value decisions are made by the TDR Committee but may be supported by an appraisal. Bank funding can be used for program administration and marketing as well as amenity funding to incorporated cities pursuant to an interlocal agreement. All proceeds from the Bank’s sale of TDR must be used for these administrative functions, amenity funding or the acquisition of additional development rights.