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Want taller skyscrapers? Pay the farmer

By Gary Chittim
King 5

SEATTLE - So how does King County buy a former golf course, turn it into a farm and pay for it by selling the development rights to downtown Seattle developers? Welcome to the strange world of King County’s Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program.

TDR Project Manager Darren Greve explained the program with diagrams showing how all county property comes with rights; like water rights, mineral rights and development rights.

Greve said King County and Seattle officials found a way to make development rights on farm land transferrable to projects being built in Seattle’s South Lake Union area. The County buys a farmer’s development rights, which lowers the farmer’s taxes and forbids them from ever turning their farm into a housing development or strip mall. It will stay a farm.

The County then allows developers who want to increase the size or height of their approved developments in Seattle to buy those rights. Downtown developers do not have to buy development rights for their approved projects, but if they want to go higher they must pay the farmer.

City leaders approved the deal because they want denser development downtown that allows residents to walk or ride to get everything they need; a more sustainable lifestyle.  They also like having locally produced food available to those downtown residents.

The County uses the money from the sale of the rights to buy more development rights to preserve more farm and forest land and prevent urban sprawl.

The farmer gets the money and the right to keep on farming but can never sell out to developers.

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