City cautious about taking density from county
April 25, 2013
By Ari Cetron
New: April 25, 9:51 a.m.
King County is trying to entice Sammamish with a bit of money to build more homes, but city leaders seem lukewarm to the idea at the April 9 City Council meeting.
Under a new state law, the county and city can enter into an agreement under a program called “Land Conservation Local Infrastructure Program.”
Under the program, Sammamish would accept some extra development transferred from outside of the city under a Transfer of Development Rights (see sidebar) program.
In exchange for accepting those extra housing units, the city could then get up to 75 percent of the county’s portion of property taxes, said Darren Greve of King County.
The exact amount works on a sliding scale. The more development the city accepts, the more money it can get from the county.
If Sammamish is willing to accept 215 development rights, they could net a bit more than $4 million over 25 years, Greve said. Sammamish has already agreed to accept up to 75 development rights from the county. Those 75 would be part of the 215, meaning the city could take up to 140 more.
That money would then be earmarked for infrastructure projects in and around Town Center.
City officials were skeptical from the start.
City Manager Ben Yazici said he was grateful the county was willing to adopt this program and noted the significant budgetary hit the county would take.
Greve acknowledged that if every city in King County adopted the program, the county would have problems. But he said preserving open spaces in rural areas was worth it in the long term, and it could help reduce rural road costs.
The dollar amount also raised eyebrows with city officials. Yazici noted that the city has a hard time building a mile of sidewalk for less than $1 million.
So an extra $4 million over 25 years wouldn’t do much to offset the cost generated by new residents.
“It’s great to have these property tax revenues, but what is the cost to us?” Yazici said.
Mayor Tom Odell echoed Yazici’s comments, saying the extra money was unlikely to be able to compensate for the increased growth.
Still Odell said he was intrigued by the idea, but suggested the city move carefully.
Consulting firm Community Attributes is studying the program’s implications for Sammamish and could present the council with a full report in May.
Transfer of Development Rights
Sammamish already has a transfer of development right program in place. Programs such as this are designed to protect areas of environmental or historic significance. In King County, it moves development from the rural portions of the county to areas inside the Urban Growth Boundary.
Under the program, a property owner on rural areas voluntarily gives up some or all of the development they would be allowed under their property’s zoning. For example, a 10-acre plot zoned for one house per acre would have up to 10 development rights.
Those rights are removed from the original property and then become a commodity that can be bought and sold. The buyer of one of these rights can then build more homes on their property than the zoning of that property would normally allow.
In Sammamish, the program is set up to allow up to 75 development rights to be transferred from forested land just east of Sammamish into Town Center.