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Partners and Resources - Property Owners

The county’s “Long Term Agriculture” zoning designation applies to parcels that may be of lasting commercial value for agriculture. The areas are zoned using criteria such as the nature and depth of viable soils and the presence of critical areas. This zoning district provides an opportunity to use the land for agricultural uses alongside prairie habitat management.

The Open Space Tax Program provides a way for County Assessors to base property tax assessments on the “current use value” of lands used for natural resource production or protection. The market value of land used for farming, timber production or open space uses is often much lower than the market value of other uses, like residences or businesses. Since property taxes are based on the “highest and best” use under state law, owners of farmland or open space sometimes have difficulty continuing their “natural resource” uses while paying “higher” use taxes. Property owners who commit to continuing these uses may apply the current use classification. Their property assessments will then be based on current use values, resulting in lower property taxes.

The minimum size of property eligible for the program is five acres. It’s an excellent way to maintain large areas of existing prairie habitat while providing financial incentive and relief to property owners as part of a “working lands” conservation strategy. For more information on the county’s Open Space Tax Program, click here.

The Purchase of Development Rights authorizes Thurston County and qualified conservation organizations to purchase development rights (essentially residential density) with the purpose of preserving farmland. The program compensates land owners for agreeing to conserve their land.  Generally, the property owner would retain ownership of the land and continue to reside on and farm the property.

The Transfer of Development Rights Program provides an opportunity for working-land owners to sell their development rights without having to sell their entire property for development. Under this approach, the rural character and agricultural economy of Thurston County is preserved, and working-land owners have the opportunity to realize some of the true market value of their land without having to sell the land altogether for urban development.

When you purchase property, you get more than just the land – you get rights over how the land is used, including mineral rights, development rights and water rights. Those rights can be sold or transferred without affecting the land itself. Under a TDR program, the owner of working lands can sell the development rights from the land to somebody in an urban area. The rights are sold in the form of credits, and the buyer can use those credits to develop land at a different density than local zoning would normally allow. TDR programs help preserve working lands, because the landowners can benefit from the true market value of their development rights, without having to sell the land altogether to a developer. Meanwhile, the buyer of those rights has greater flexibility in developing land within certain zoning areas. It’s a way to shift development away from rural areas and into urban areas.

Mitigation/Conservation banks are permanently protected lands that contain natural resource values. The lands are for species that are endangered, threatened, candidates for listing, or are otherwise at risk. Conservation banks offset adverse impacts to these species that occur elsewhere, sometimes known as off-site mitigation. In exchange for permanently protecting the land and managing it for these species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approves a specified number of habitat or species credits that bank owners may sell. Developers who need to compensate for the unavoidable adverse impacts their projects have on species (incidental take) may purchase the credits from conservation banks to mitigate the impacts.

A Safe Harbor Agreement is a voluntary agreement involving private or other non-Federal property owners whose actions contribute to the recovery of threatened or endangered species. Some property owners may be reluctant to undertake activities that support or attract listed species on their properties, due to fear of future property-use restrictions related to the ESA. To address this concern, a SHA provides that future property-use limitations will not occur without the landowner’s consent. Property owners receive formal assurances from the USFWS that as long as they fulfill the conditions of the Safe Harbor Agreement, they will not need to carry out any additional management activities unless they consent to them.

Conservation easements protect critical land for future generations while allowing owners to live on, use, and own their land. An easement is either donated or sold by the landowner in exchange for agreeing to limit certain uses of the land, such as subdivisions or new development. Landowners keep their private property rights while enjoying certain tax benefits, which help keep land intact and in the family. You can still sell your land with a conservation easement.

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Interested Parties: If you would like to be added to our Web Mail list, please click here. Staff contact: Andrew Deffobis, Associate Planner. Phone: (360) 754-3355, ext. 5467. E-mail: deffoba@co.thurston.wa.us.

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