Northwest NEWS

November 23, 1998

Front Page

New program aims to ease growth in rural areas

by Lisa Allen, Valley View editor

   King County planners have been given the go-ahead to begin a pilot program that would transfer development rights from rural lands in the county to a neighborhood in Seattle.

   The aim of the program is to save dwindling forest lands and salmon habitat by increasing housing units in the inner city, said County Executive Ron Sims and Seattle Mayor Paul Schell at a news conference last week.

   Under the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), rural landowners would be able to sell the rights to develop their property to owners of urban property.

   In this particular case, the development would be concentrated in the Denny Triangle, a neighborhood bounded by Denny Way, Interstate 5, and 5th Ave. Developers there would pay for "credits" that would allow them to build more and higher apartment houses and condominiums. Those credits would go toward paying rural property owners to not develop their farm and forest lands.

   "The Denny Triangle can accommodate quite a bit of growth," said Laura Paskin, of the Seattle Strategic Planning Office. "Neighborhood groups there have indicated they are very much in favor of increasing the number of multi-family housing units. Services are close and light rail is planned to come into the neighborhood." Urban amenities such as small parks would also be included as the Denny Triangle develops, she said.

   Lori Grant, of the King County Office of Budget and Strategic Planning, explained that at the outset, some county money will be used as "seed money" to pay landowners who wish to be included in the program. "But this money will be reimbursed by the developers," she said. "There will be no cost to the taxpayer."

   Prices offered for parcels will be based on market analyses, she said. An example might be a landowner being offered $20,000 for a housing unit they would agree not to build. Developers will be able to purchase development "credits" from a bank, or buy development rights directly from a landowner with the price negotiable.

   But, she said, the county will be looking with more interest at land that is crucial to wildlife habitat for the use of bank credits. She noted that there has been no shortage of people who want to sell or transfer their development rights, but the "big challenge is finding people who want to buy them and neighborhoods ready to take them," and that the Denny Triangle has been the first neighborhood to "step up to the plate."

   She said Denny Triangle planning groups have been looking at the recent gentrification of adjacent Belltown, which has been a great success. "The area has a lot of parking lots and small buildings," Grant said. "Planning associations have indicated they want more high quality residential development to increase livability there. But Seattle will need to revise the zoning in the neighborhood to allow the increased height limits."

   Grant said that rural landowners who are interested in the program need to go through a qualification process. "Property owners need to contact Connie Blumen at the county Department of Natural Resources Office," she said. "Once the land qualifies, interested developers can make an offer on the property."

   These programs have been useful in saving rural land in other parts of the country, she added. "The county is looking for every tool available to reduce development pressure," she said. "This is a match made in heaven."