Snohomish County, Washington

Snohomish County, population 606,000 (2000) includes Everett and the northern suburbs of Seattle on Puget Sound and extends east to encompass portions of the Cascade Mountains. Concerned about the loss of valuable farmland, the County called for exploration of TDR in farmland preservation plans adopted in 1982 and 1993. Two TDR Feasibility studies were also conducted in the 1990s. In 2002, a third TDR Feasibility Study indicated that developers were likely to pay from $10,000 to $12,500 for a TDR allowing one additional home site assuming TDR was the only way to achieve urban density within newly established Urban Growth Areas (UGA.) The sending area was assumed to be portions of Stillaguamish River Valley in northern Snohomish County near the City of Arlington. In 2003, the County adopted a policy framework for a TDR program and designated the Stillaguamish River Valley as a TDR sending area in the Future Land Use Map.

Snohomish County, Washington’s TDR ordinance is designed to preserve farmland in the Stillaguamish River Valley shown here.

In December 2004, the County adopted a Phase I TDR Ordinance to preserve land with significant conservation values including natural resource lands, farmland and open space. The sending areas must be identified in the Future Land Use Map, making the Stillaguamish River Valley the only qualified sending area as of 2004. For the purpose of calculating TDR allocation, the gross area of a sending site is reduced by the minimum lot size requirement for any existing structures, any land area already subject to a conservation easement and any land with a floodway. The remaining number of acres is multiplied by 0.4 to determine the TDRs available for transfer. (This transfer density was determined by multiplying the base density rate on 0.1 units per acre by a transfer ratio of four.) Alternatively, legal lots with at least 12,500 square feet of area created before March 15, 2005 are entitled to one TDR times the transfer density of 0.4.

The 2004 ordinance also specifies the transfer process including the requirements of the conservation easement, the issuance of TDR certificates, the conveyance of these certificates and the mechanism through which the County itself can purchase TDRs for future resale. For example, the ordinance requires the formation of a TDR advisory committee to review proposals for the county to purchase certified development rights from sending sites. Finally, the ordinance reiterates the intent of various zoning districts which presumably would serve as TDR receiving areas. However, as of February 2005, the creation of receiving areas and the establishment of density bonuses was still under development.

In March 2005, the City Council of Arlington voted to expand its Urban Growth Boundary in an effort to accommodate the doubling of City population from its current level of 15,000 to 30,000. Some City Council members stated that they voted for this expansion because it allowed for TDR receiving areas and the preservation of land in the Stillaguamish River Valley.