Smart urban growth development is linked with rural land protection under a visionary partnership agreement between the City of Bellevue and King County that County Executive Kurt Triplett transmitted to the King County Council today for approval.
Rural lands in King County that have a direct connection to Bellevue and its residents will be protected under the proposed agreement, which includes forestlands visible from Interstate 90 in the Mountains to Sound Greenway, farmlands in the Snoqualmie Valley that supply Bellevue's weekly farmers markets, and forests in the White River watershed where Bellevue gets its drinking water.
Under the Transfer of Development Rights or "TDR" agreement -- brought to fruition by the city and the county, as well as the Cascade Land Conservancy and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust -- developers in Bellevue's Bel-Red Corridor can purchase development rights from rural private properties in order to build additional square footage in their future commercial and residential projects.
Last year Bellevue completed a visioning process that resulted in zoning regulation changes to transform the Bel-Red Corridor -- a 900-acre area east of Interstate 405 and south of State Route 520 -- from its current light industrial use to a series of vibrant, walkable and mixed-use new neighborhoods.
The city's Bel-Red vision includes affordable housing, urban parks, restored streams and waterways, walking and cycling paths, plus Sound Transit's East Link Light Rail line, which is scheduled to start servicing the area in 2021.
In Bel-Red, the TDR option gives developers the ability to increase their projects' buildable square footage. Thanks to the flexibility the TDR agreement provides, Bellevue's Bel-Red plan is the Puget Sound region's latest and greatest "smart growth" ambition.
"What's happening in Bel-Red is a great example of how environmental stewardship and economic development can be linked to benefit not just a single community, but an entire region," said Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger. "This agreement proves that it's possible to protect our farmlands and forests and pristine waterways while pursing the creation of needed jobs and housing. That is smart growth exemplified."
In exchange for the city's acceptance of rural development rights, King County is using $750,000 in dedicated open space funds to help Bellevue acquire a key ecological property along Kelsey Creek in the middle of the Bel-Red area.
Through this agreement, the property will be restored to a higher ecological value. Currently covered by pavement and with a concrete-lined ditch for a creek bed, the land will be transformed into a beautiful city-owned urban park that will help improve water quality in Lake Washington.
"Increasing zoning density, walkability and urban open space around transit hubs is the half-way point to smart growth," said King County Executive Kurt Triplett. "Getting all the way to smart growth means protecting farmlands and forests, which adds to and helps protect the quality of life for the whole region.
"This agreement is also smart use of the county's open-space preservation dollars," Triplett said. "The TDR agreement harnesses the private market to protect lands, rather than using increasingly scarce public dollars to buy them outright."
This new approach to land conservation is championed by the Cascade Land Conservancy in its work to implement its Cascade Agenda, a 100-year vision and immediate action plan that advances an array of cutting-edge programs that will conserve lands and landscapes and develop communities for future generations.
"Our forests and farms are the foundation for the famous quality of life we enjoy across our region," said Gene Duvernoy, president of the Cascade Land Conservancy. "This agreement is a perfect example of how transfer of development rights can conserve our precious resource lands while also helping our cities and towns grow robustly. I applaud our elected officials in Bellevue and King County."
Underscoring the growing interest and momentum behind TDR programs, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill during its recent session that affirms TDR as a growth management tool and seeks to put in place agreements across the greater Puget Sound region that are similar to the Bellevue-King County agreement.
Triplett said the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust was also an essential partner that helped bring this agreement to reality.
Bill Chapman, Board Chair President of the MTSG Greenway Trust called the agreement a "huge step in the right direction and a perfect example of the county and the city working together with local nonprofit land conservation organizations.
"Partnerships like these are essential as we work to find creative strategies to balance the needs of growing urban areas with protecting natural environments that preserve clean air and water, provide us with local agricultural products, and offer countless recreational opportunities," Chapman said.
The agreement has been transmitted to the King County Council for final review and approval.
King County Transfer Development Rights
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