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Creative brainstorming on TDRS

From left, Arnold Hansen speaks with County Councilman John Koster and Tony Peacock following the meeting on TDRs Oct. 30 at Pioneer Hall. Hansen is a real estate broker who represents several landowners and Peacock is a land surveyor who has worked with Snohomish County Planning and Development. - Sarah Arney
From left, Arnold Hansen speaks with County Councilman John Koster and Tony Peacock following the meeting on TDRs Oct. 30 at Pioneer Hall. Hansen is a real estate broker who represents several landowners and Peacock is a land surveyor who has worked with Snohomish County Planning and Development.
— image credit: Sarah Arney

Not just farmers and developers showed up for the meeting Oct. 30 on the TDRs.

With nearly 70 in attendance, there were also some real estate agents there, too, on behalf of the land owners, who are curious to see how this Transfer of Development Rights will work.

Since the receiving areas are inside city limits and the sending areas are in the county, the city and the county are partners in this novel attempt to guide the free market to protect farm lands.

Potential solutions discussed include raising the density potential in the receiving areas higher than current limits allow, with some retail and other mixed uses incorporated into the plan.

The meeting offered everyone present the opportunity to express their concerns or suggestions on what might make it work better.

Officials admitted they have made some wrong first steps.

John Koster said in a small group after the meeting that the legislation definitely needs to be tweaked.

"That's the nature of creating new legislation," Koster said.

During the meeting, Bill Blake sought input.

"We've had the policies in place for two years and nothing is happening," Blake said.

"What can we do to get this moving?"

While the stagnance could be attributed to the economy, most who spoke attributed it to the false hope that the county caused by purchasing land from one land owner, while expecting others to settle a deal with a developer.

The county used an alternate program, the Purchase of Development Rights, in several instances, using Conservation Futures money and other sources.

One land owner, Chris Bateham is concerned that if she applies to the program, her land will be encumbered even before she receives any money.

An architect and daughter of a dairy farmer, Ruth Gonzales reminded all that just keeping the land vacant isn't enough. We also have to make sure there are people working the land, she said.

Blake agreed that there is another aspect of the program.

"The city does need to support the farmers by allowing facilities inside the city limits to process some of the farm products."

A farmer, Andrew Albert said there is not enough ground to farm already.

"There are so many farmers who want to use the ground," he said.

While some expressed the need for some goverment subsidies or participation by such organizations as the Cascade Land Conservancy, others felt it would be best to keep government out of the deal.

"Just let the buyer and seller work it out," said Noel Higa, a developer who owns land in Arlington's receiving area, a.k.a., the Brekhus Beach receiving area.

Higa does see the need for government to provide the infrastructure, however.

"You can't expect the developer to build all the roads," Higa said.

Another issue discussed was the difference between the value of wetlands and sensitive areas versus buildable lots.

"We need to give at least some credits for floodways," Higa said.

One skeptic in the audience noted, the concept of TDRs has been on the table since the 1920s, and it hasn't taken off anywhere.

A forester who is active in many county organizations, Duane Weston suggested adding flexibility to the program.

"How about letting the landowner sell a few credits at a time?" Weston said.

A committed advocate for the TDR program Mayor Margaret Larson said there will eventually be TDRs state wide.

"It's a state mandate that this will happen," she said, once again looking on the bright side.

"If we can work together, we can make this happen," Larson said.

The input from the meeting was then presented to Arlington City Council Monday, Nov. 3 by Community Development Director David Kuhl.

"We got a lot of good ideas at last week's meeting," Kuhl relayed them all to the council.

"We need to revisit the density issue and considering creating our own master plan for potential receiving areas," Kuhl got permission to proceed in that process.

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