Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Program


Development Right
Land ownership is commonly described as consisting of a bundle of different rights. Usually when someone purchases a parcel they purchase the entire bundle of rights associated with the land. Some of the more common rights include ownership of any mineral deposits under the land, or timber growing on the land. Owning a development right is equivalent to owning the right to build a structure on the parcel. Development rights may be voluntarily separated and transferred from the land. The number of development rights a parcel has depends on zoning, acreage, and existing development. The number of rights available for transfer may differ (see sending site criteria KCC 17.13.020).
Sending Site
The sending site is the parcel of land from which development rights will be transferred. After transferring the development rights from the sending parcel, future development is limited according to the terms of the conservation easement which is placed over the sending site at the time of transfer. Kittitas County TDR Code (KCC 17.13) outlines the specific eligibility criteria for sending sites, but generally sending sites are rural parcels providing productive agricultural or forestry values, critical wildlife habitat, or other public benefits such as open space. See Sending Site Information for additional information.
Receiving Site
Receiving sites are parcels of land to which development rights are transferred when the owner/developer of the land applies for and receives approval to subdivide at densities greater than otherwise allowed under current zoning. Typically, these are parcels of land in urban areas where the existing services and infrastructure can accommodate additional growth. Development rights that are “sent” off of a sending site are placed on a receiving site. Landowners may place development rights onto a receiving site either by transferring them from a qualifying parcel they own, or by purchasing the development rights from a sending site landowner with TDR Certificates. With transferred development rights a landowner may develop the receiving site at a higher density than is otherwise allowed by the base zoning. For more information about receiving sites, see receiving site information and Kittitas County TDR Code (KCC 17.13).
TDR Certification
After going through the enrollment process, the final step is to “certify” the TDRs. They then become a tradable commodity. At the time the TDRs are certified, a conservation easement is placed over the sending site.
Conservation Easement
Conservation easements come in many different forms and the specific conditions may vary depending on the purpose of the easement. Generally speaking, a conservation easement is like a blanket spread across a property. In the areas covered by the blanket, no new development may take place. Frequently landowners will retain one development right in order to build a single-family residence on the land. While land covered by a conservation easement restricts certain types of land use, the land itself remains in private ownership. Depending on the criteria used to qualify a sending site, a range of uses may be permitted under the conservation easement, such as agricultural, forestry, or recreational uses. Kittitas County has determined the sample conservation easement is acceptable.
Density is the number of dwelling units per acre. Existing density is calculated based on acreage and existing development. Potential density is based on acreage and zoning, and predicts the number of dwelling units that could be placed on a given parcel.
TDR Banking
If someone purchases development rights from a sending site but doesn’t use them right away on a receiving site, the person is said to be “banking” the development rights. The sending site landowner might also bank development rights by separating the rights from the parcel and placing a conservation easement on the land. The landowner would then have certificates for the number of development rights allowed that could be sold or used on a receiving site.
Extinguishing Development Rights
When someone uses a development right to build a dwelling unit on a qualified receiving site, the development right is “extinguished.” It is used up and cannot be used again in any other location.