The Path to Passing TDR Legislation
Nick Bratton testifying to the Snohomish County Council.
By Nick Bratton, TDR Project Manager
How does Forterra succeed in advancing important policy initiatives? What does it take to put The Cascade Agenda into action? Forterra’s approach of bringing wide-ranging interests together around complex issues is effective and the recent passage of transfer of development rights (TDR) legislation in Snohomish County is the perfect real-world example of that approach at work.
For those unfamiliar, TDR is a voluntary, market-based conservation and growth management tool that allows farm and forest landowners to earn money protecting their land and encourages growth in areas where it is desirable. Forterra has played a role in creating or expanding 10 of the 20 programs in the state and is currently involved in designing several more. Snohomish County is one of our organization’s geographical focuses for conservation and community building and, as such, we are deeply invested in the success of their TDR program.
On October 17, Snohomish County adopted a major update to its TDR program. This update expands the area eligible for conservation by over 300,000 acres and increases opportunities for TDR use in urban unincorporated areas.
The path to this TDR update took many twists and turns. In leading Forterra’s efforts to support passage, I worked extensively to engage a broad range of stakeholder groups in the county. The benefits of TDR are easy to appreciate: conservation of farms and forests, economic development, and sustainable growth, all driven by incentives and the private market. Finding consensus on how to make this happen, however, is the challenge. Each stakeholder group brought different concerns and priorities to the conversation. My role was to find common ground that advanced everyone’s interests.
Over the past three years, I spoke to over 100 people and groups in Snohomish County to gather input and shape policy recommendations. I worked closely with individual farmers and the Agricultural Advisory Board to focus conservation on lands that reflect the priorities of the farming community. I discussed shared goals between farmers and tribes, participating in a public initiative called the Sustainable Lands Strategy that aims to enhance land uses for both farming and fish habitat restoration. I visited family-owned forests, wielded an axe, and experienced for myself what it was like to work the land.
On the growth side I met with many developers, all of whom shared similar views. They said in order for TDR to work for us, it has to create value, offer incentives we want and improve predictability in a complex regulatory environment. To come up with innovative ideas, I partnered with the Master Builders Association to bring together a group of leaders in the development community. This group discussed new approaches for how TDR could be used at a forum convened by Forterra. Several of the approaches we discussed were ultimately included in the legislation.
When the time came for the county council to consider this legislation, my years of investment in relationship building and engagement brought together unprecedented support for TDR. When such diverse groups as farmers, foresters, tribes, developers, environmental groups, cities, the state and Forterra all supported this TDR policy update, it sent a powerful message to the county that change was needed. This was truly an uncommon alignment of stars. It also highlighted to me the effectiveness of Forterra’s approach to implementing The Cascade Agenda. We achieve results like these by being inclusive, listening, building strong partnerships, and focusing on solutions to land use issues that benefit everyone.