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Development Rights

Transfers or Purchase of Development Rights (TDRs or PDRs) relocate potential development rights from an area where resources are environmentally sensitive to an area where increased development will not harm the landscape. This is done by actually transferring the right to develop from one location to another.

TDRs allow land to remain in the private sector while avoiding development on environmentally significant sites. The TDR works by assigning credits to property owners in an area of ecological significance or a conservation area experiencing strong development pressure. These credits can then be transferred to designated growth areas.

Developers in designated growth areas can purchase the necessary credits from the owners of the conservation area and thus build to a higher density than is usually allowed.

Purchasing transferable development rights has been frequently applied to protecting farmland. Programs are set up in local communities to compensate willing landowners with cash for some or all of the difference between their property’s urban development value and its agricultural value.

Use of this method may result in a reduction of property taxes of the “donor” after the transfer of the development credit.

More information about transfer of development rights can be found on the websites of King County and the Cascade Land Conservancy.

Two of the best known governmental programs in Washington State concerned with acquisition, easements, and development rights are:

Conservation Futures Programs

The Conservation Futures Programs are acquisition programs in counties applying the state Current Use Taxation law (RCW 84.34.200). It provides authority for local governments to raise funds for open space preservation through purchase of easements, development rights, or outright acquisition.

Counties are authorized to levy a property tax of up to $0.0625 per $1000 assessed valuation. These funds may be credited to a special Conservation Futures fund and are usually administered by county parks and recreation departments.

Counties in Washington with conservation futures levies supporting active preservation programs are: Clark, Ferry, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, San Juan, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, and Whatcom.

Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP)

The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program provides grants to state agencies or local communities for a broad range of land protection, park development, farmland preservation, habitat conservation, and outdoor recreation activities.

It has two goals: to assist with rapid acquisition of the most significant lands for wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation before they are converted to other uses; and to develop existing public recreation lands and facilities to meet present and future needs.

Awards for acquisition or improvement of property fall into four categories: Habitat Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, Riparian Protection, and Farmlands Preservation. Tribal, state, and local governments are eligible for grants. Land trusts and other nonprofits have been successful partners with eligible public agencies.

WWRP requires prospective participants to complete an outdoor recreation/habitat conservation plan. Unless specifically excluded, all properties acquired and all lands developed must remain in the public domain in perpetuity or be replaced with a project of equal or greater value and utility.

The program can provide landowners with financial compensation and potential tax benefits in exchange for outright acquisition or long-term conservation easements by a government agency.

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