Work Begins to Protect Farm Land

Article from Richard Conlin’s email newsletter: Making it Work

September 9, 2009, Volume XI, Issue 8

On Monday, August 10, the Council adopted a resolution beginning the next stage of the City’s work with King County to protect the agricultural properties that supply Seattle’s food. Resolution 31147, adopted 8-1 (McIver voting no) declared the City Council’s support for a new Interlocal Agreement with King County to transfer rural development rights into Seattle. This could become part of a new regional program to protect agricultural land throughout Western Washington.

The legislation identifies farms and dairies in rural King County that provide food to Seattle’s farmer’s markets, and portions of the Tolt River watershed as potential sites to be protected. It also names South Lake Union, other Urban Centers, and light rail station areas as potential areas in the City that could receive these development rights. It further specifies that the agreement should require King County to provide Seattle with funding for amenity and infrastructure projects in Seattle neighborhoods that accept more growth under this program.

Seattle and King County had an agreement in place between 1999 and 2006, designed to protect the watersheds that supply Seattle with drinking water, with the Denny Triangle as the receiving area. Under this program, 880 acres with 68 development rights were protected along the Tolt and Cedar Rivers, four projects achieved additional height and density, and approximately $1.2 million was provided by King County for amenities in the City. That program was allowed to lapse because the goal of protecting land relating to the watersheds had been achieved, and because the additional height and density could be achieved through the bonus program for housing.

The proposed new agreement would focus on the City’s ‘foodshed’. The County has identified several hundred development rights in agricultural properties that serve Seattle markets but remain unprotected. These include:

  • 49 unprotected farms, totaling 853 acres with 142 potential development rights, that supply farmer’s markets;
  • Seven dairy farms, with 670 acres and 60 development rights, that supply milk to the local dairy cooperatives;
  • 30 parcels along the Tolt River, with 170 acres and 46 development rights, that are valuable for flood prevention that could protect downstream farms, as well as provide habitat for endangered salmon populations.

While this land is in rural zoning, it could still be subdivided into estates with five or ten acre lots, an option that could be very financially attractive to the farmers. By transferring these 248 development rights into the City, the farmer realizes an immediate financial gain and is able to continue farming, while the land is protected from being developed – forever.

In the next several years, the Council will be asked to consider rezones to South Lake Union, light rail station areas, and possibly other Urban Centers. The transfer of development rights program might be one way of making those rezones provide not only housing and jobs in the City, but also help ensure the City’s future food supply.

The next step in this process will be negotiations with King County, which will most likely not begin until the new Mayor and County Executive are selected and take office in 2010.

Posted in Food Justice Blog Posts.

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