Transfer of Development Rights

It seems every new building going up in Tacoma these days is a condo. Part of that may be related to the fine work Cascade Land Conservancy is doing on open space preservation in Pierce County. With the population set to double in our region over the next century, we need to start getting creative about urban development while protecting our natural areas and respecting the rights of property owners.

Transfer of Development Rights is a market-based mechanism that promotes responsible growth, bearing in mind that developers, property owners, and conservationists are all stakeholders in this complex issue. The theory is that the landowner sells the right to develop the land--not the land itself--for a fair and equitable price. Developers then pay for the right to a bonus in a different area, one that can accommodate additional growth. That bonus may be extra height on a planned or existing building or higher density that wouldn't normally be allowed.

Economics professor Garrett Milam and two student research assistants are currently testing market mechanisms that would be most successful in Pierce County and the extended region. The program is also collaborating with the Washington Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development on an advisory committee for the 2009 legislative session.