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City Council takes input 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 The Arlington Times
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 The Arlington Times

ARLINGTON — Following a public meeting on the Transfer of Development Rights Oct. 30, the city’s director of community development, David Kuhl, presented the input collected to City Council Monday, Nov. 3.

After presenting more than 15 items of concern and suggestions on how to make the program work, Kuhl got unofficial encouragement to move forward on creating a master plan for the city’s receiving area.

“We got a lot of good ideas at last week’s meeting,” Kuhl told the Council.

“We need to revisit the density issue and consider creating our own master plan for the receiving areas.”

City officials had formerly preferred a minimum of 9,600-square-foot lots, but input repeatedly spoke of the need for increased density in the receiving area.

Kuhl suggested creating a plan that would allow for a variety of lot sizes in a Master Planned Neighborhood.

Not just farmers and developers showed up for the Oct. 30 meeting on the Transfer of Development Rights program. With nearly 70 people in attendance, there were also real estate agents, on behalf of the land owners, who were curious to see how this Transfer of Development Rights would work.

Since the receiving areas are inside city limits and the sending areas are in the county, the city and the county partnered in presenting this effort to guide the free market to protect farm lands.

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. “It’s a process.”

During the meeting, the city’s natural resource manager, Bill Blake, encouraged everyone to speak up.

“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, 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.

A farmer, on the other hand, said there are lots of farmers looking for land to use.

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

Blake agreed that there is another aspect of the program.

“The city does need to support the farmers in other ways as well,” he noted, adding that the city’s industrial area could be used to process crops grown in the county.

While some expressed the need for some government 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.

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