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Transfer of Development Rights Program

BackgroundTransfer of Development Rights Graphic

Thurston County's Transfer of Development Rights Program (TDR) 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.

Click here for more information about how TDR works

Program Overview

Thurston County’s TDR program was established in 1995 (TCC 20.62) and was the first such program in the state. The TDR program allows owners of property in the Long-term Agriculture zoning district (Sending Area) to gain credit for unused development rights that can be sold and transferred to another property in an urban area (Receiving Area). Development rights may be used to allow specific density changes in urban areas – they may not be used to increase density in rural areas. The goal of the program is to preserve farmland while allowing farmland owners to realize the economic value of their land’s development potential.

Sending Areas

Thurston County will credit one Transferable Development Right per 5 acres in the Long-Term Agriculture (LTA) zoning district (see a map of sending and receiving areas). One development right will be subtracted for each residence or commercial structure on the parcel, unless the structure qualifies as a farm housing or family member unit. No minimum amount of acreage is required to participate.

Where can TDRs be Used?

The cities of Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and Thurston County have identified areas within their zoning codes where TDRs can be used to achieve specific urban densities (see a map of sending and receiving areas). These receiving areas exist both within city boundaries and in urban growth areas (UGAs).

Location Receiving Area Zoning What can a TDR be used for? Code
Grand Mound UGA Residential 3-6 One additional unit of density above 5 dwelling units/acre TCC 20.15
  Residential 4-16 One additional unit of density above 15 dwelling units/acre TCC 20.21A
City & UGA
Residential 4-8 One additional unit of density above 7 dwelling units/acre; OR one less unit of density below 5 dwelling units/acre OMC 18.04.080
TCC 23.04.080
City & UGA
Mixed Use Moderate Density Corridor (MMDC) Density bonus above 12 residential units/acre (standard density is 8-12 du/acre) LMC 16.22
TCC 21.22
  Mixed Use High Density Corridor (MHDC) Density bonus above 20 residential units/acre (standard density is 12-20 du/acre) LMC 16.22
TCC 21.23
  Moderate Density Residential Zone (MD) Density bonus above 12 dwelling units/acre (standard density is 6-12 du/acre) LMC 16.15
TCC 21.15
  High Density Residential Zone (HD) Density bonus above 20 dwelling units/acre (standard density is 6-20 du/acre) LMC 16.18
TCC 21.18
City & UGA
Single Family Low Density 4-7 One additional unit of density above 6 dwelling units/acre TMC 18.10.050
TCC 22.10.050
  Single Family Medium Density 6-9 One additional unit of density above 8 dwelling units/acre TMC 18.12.050
TCC 22.12.050
  Multifamily Medium Density 9-15 One additional unit of density above 14 dwelling units/acre TMC 18.14.050
TCC 22.14.050
  Multifamily High Density 14-29 Up to 4 additional units of density above 25 dwelling units/acre TMC 18.16.050 TCC 22.14.050

All other land use and development regulations will continue to apply; the maximum allowable density on a parcel may be limited by factors such as critical areas or sanitary code restrictions.

How to Participate

Landowners wishing to sell any unused development rights first must have them officially certified by the County. The application for certification must include a map of the site and legal description, a title report, the number of existing units on the property, and any applicable review fees. Once the application has been verified, the property owner must sign a permanent TDR easement, which will be recorded with the Thurston County Auditor.

Once the transfer of development rights is complete, the land may continue to be used for agricultural purposes, as permitted under the Long-Term Agriculture zoning, except that to build any additional residences, the owner must have retained a TDR for each new dwelling unit.

Developers wishing to purchase development rights may contact the County for a list of eligible farmland owners who are interested in selling their development rights. The cost of a TDR is negotiated between the buyer and seller – there is no set price. Once both parties agree to the exchange, a Deed of Transfer must be recorded with the Thurston County Auditor. To use a TDR within one of the specified receiving areas, the developer must provide a signed and recorded certificate for each unit of density as part of the permitting process.

Stakeholders Meetings

An informal group of interested stakeholders met between November 2009 and July 2010 to discuss ways to enhance Thurston County's Transfer of Development Rights Program. Click here for minutes and PowerPoint presentations.

Study of TDR Programs

As part of an independent learning contract, Evergreen College students studied Thurston County's existing TDR program and compared the program with similar efforts across the nation. Click here to see "A Study of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in Thurston County, Washington, June 2010."

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