Report: Regional transfer of development rights in Puget Sound

A 2013 report from the Environmental Protection Agency discusses progress on implementing transfer of development rights (TDR) as a strategy for conservation and increased development capacity in Puget Sound.

An infographic explains the basic principles of TDR. Image via King County.
An infographic explains the basic principles of TDR. Image via King County.

Executive Summary


The challenge in Puget Sound is to accommodate the more than 1.5 million new people expected to live here by 2025, and adapt to a changing climate, without increasing pressures on Puget Sound from habitat and land use, storm water, toxic pollution, and transportation2. Between 2000 and 2006, Puget Sound counties added 315,965 people, a rate of more than 50,000 people per year. Many farm and forest land areas are being converted to residential and commercial development. Between 1991 and 2001, 190 square miles of forest land in the Puget Sound basin was converted to other uses, equaling 2.3 percent of remaining forests3.

Counties and cities have been working together on Puget Sound conservation goals through the regional transfer of development rights (TDR) since King County and the Cities of Seattle and Issaquah adopted interlocal agreements in 2001. This report provides a history and summary of the regional accomplishments to date, with a focus on TDR programs recently adopted by cities (see City Case Studies) under a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Watershed Management Assistance Agreement4

Forterra began working with counties and cities on regional TDR as a market-based conservation strategy to implement its Cascade Agenda, adopted in 2005 with goals for the next 100 years. The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) and Washington State Department of Commerce (Commerce) became involved in regional TDR when Commerce was directed by legislation in 2007 to work with an advisory committee to develop a regional TDR marketplace in central Puget Sound that includes, but is not limited to, supporting strategies for financing infrastructure and conservation5. TDR implements multi-county planning polices PSRC adopted in VISION 2040.

Legislation implementing the consensus recommendations of the advisory committee was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor in 20096, contingent upon Commerce finding another funding source to implement it. Through an EPA West Coast Estuary Initiative grant, this Watershed Management Assistance (WMA) grant and a WMA grant to King County, all intended to implement the Puget Sound Action Agenda, the regional partners (King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County, Kitsap County, PSRC, Forterra and Commerce) have been able to implement the legislation and keep regional TDR moving forward.

Download the full report.


2 The 2012 Action Agenda for Puget Sound, Puget Sound Partnership.
3 State of the Sound 2007, Puget Sound Action Team.
4 EPA Assistance Agreement PO-00J093-01-0.
5 RCW 43.362.020(1)(a).
6 Chapter 43.362 RCW, as amended in 2009.


Bonlender, B., B. Drewel, and G. Duvernoy. 2013. Regional Transfer of Development Rights in Puget Sound. Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington State Department of Commerce, Olympia, WA.