TDR for TIF Means Saving Farm Land and Livable Communities

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King County forest canopy (photo from

As the City Council considers the comprehensive rezone legislation for South Lake Union (SLU), it will also take up legislation that will authorize and implement the ‘TDR for TIF’ program –‘Transfer of Development Rights for Tax Increment Financing’.  That arcane phrase describes a way to implement growth management by protecting rural land and investing in amenities that will make urban communities more livable.

The TDR for TIF program was developed by Forterra and approved by the Legislature in 2011.  The framework for implementing it in the region was approved by the Puget Sound Regional Council earlier this year (insert reference to blog post).  It’s a complicated program, with lots of details.  But the bottom line is a win-win-win-win:

  • Landowners get to keep their land as farms or forests and are compensated for not developing.
  • Developers get to build projects in the City.
  • Seattle and King County get funds for infrastructure to support this development work, implementing growth management for urban density.
  • The people of Seattle get food at their Farmers Markets, development and increased City revenues from downtown, implementation of infrastructure projects with lower costs for taxpayers outside of downtown, and effective growth management to protect rural areas.

Here’s how it will work:

  • King County creates a TDR Bank that will buy the development rights from farms, forest, and designated rural lands.  They will pay property owners a sum of money in return for a legally binding agreement to keep the property in farm or forest use – forever.
  • Seattle adopts legislation requiring developers to purchase TDR from either King County or directly from the landowner in order to complete projects that take advantage of the increased zoning in South Lake Union and other downtown areas.  In South Lake Union and the Broad-Denny-Aurora Triangle, the requirement will reflect the new zoning.  In the remainder of downtown, the requirement will replace an existing provision relating to Green Building (which is now the norm!).
  • The TIF comes in because these developments will increase King County’s property tax collections – but incur few County costs.  So these County property taxes will be transferred to the City for investment in South Lake Union and downtown, the area generating the additional property tax.  That will allow the City to complete parks, green streets, and other infrastructure projects that will in turn make these areas more livable as they become denser and more developed.

First priority for purchasing TDR’s will be 200 development rights for farms.  We are advocating for these to be farms that sell at Seattle’s Farmers Markets or that are within the Tolt River Watershed, where we get drinking water.  This is the approach the City asked for in Resolution 31147, which I sponsored and which was approved in 2009.

The TDR for TIF legislation will be considered as part of the SLU package, and will likely come to Full Council for approval in early 2013.