Already a regional leader in the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) programs to conserve environmentally sensitive lands, the City of Issaquah hopes to use a $100,000 grant to make land conservation an even more attractive prospect for developers.
That money, courtesy of the Washington State Department of Commerce and the Puget Sound Regional Council, will fund an environmental and market analysis to help the city reevaluate just what builders will pay for special development allowances, such as reduced density and height restrictions, and how the city can leverage this demand.
In a TDR program, a developer purchases a parcel of ecologically or historically significant land, known as the “sending site,” and this parcel is then placed under long-term conservation protection. In return, the city grants the developer extended rights in zones already designated for intense development, known as “receiving sites.”
Alternatively, the City of Issaquah can purchase and protect a sending site, and then hold the development rights for future purchase, acting as a bank or TDR trader.
In Issaquah, the majority of TDR receiving sites are in the Issaquah Highlands, Talus, and the commercial core along Interstate 90 where city planners hope to see denser, more modern development replace the sprawling buildings and parking lots which were built in the 1960s and 1970s. In exchange, the city hopes to secure land in the sensitive Issaquah and Tibbetts creek watersheds, in addition to more than 100 acres at Park Pointe on Tiger Mountain, the sending site in the Issaquah Highlands TDR currently under negotiation.
But according to City of Issaquah Planning Director Mark Hinthorne, in recent months a number of developers have declined to participate in TDR exchanges in the city, apparently not convinced of a sufficient return on investment.
“There is a need to make TDRs more attractive,” Hinthorne said. “We plan to use this grant to study how we can make TDRs more needed, more effective.”
As it is, a sending site is designated a certain number of TDR units, depending on its size and current zoning. For every one TDR unit the developer purchases, they receive one additional dwelling unit allowance, or permission to create one additional trip, an indicator of commercial activity. Hinthorne said one way the city could make its TDR program more attractive was by increasing the value of each TDR unit, or exploring other incentives for developers to conserve sending sites.
The city’s TDR program is a key component of two important plans currently being developed – the Central Issaquah Plan and the Rowley Properties development agreement – both of which are exploring long-term options for the redevelopment of the Issaquah valley floor.
The Issaquah Creek Confluence Park Area, which links Tollë Anderson, Cybil-Madeline and Issaquah Creek parks, was made possible by the city’s purchase of a TDR sending site at Cybil-Madeline Park. In recent years the City of Issaquah has been heralded for using TDR transactions to secure land around local creeks which are significant spawning grounds for the threatened chinook salmon.
The Washington State Department of Commerce and the Puget Sound Regional Council announced over $1 million in grant awards to 10 cities for TDR planning and program development.
“With these funds, cities will be creating a market for developers to increase the value of their projects while protecting land that is important for farming, forestry and watershed protection,” said director of the Washington State Department of Commerce, Rogers Weed. “Tools like TDR are market-driven and encourage private investment in growing communities and land conservation.”