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Thurston County, Washington

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Community Planning and Economic Development

Transfer or Purchase of Development Rights


Owners of certain types of working agriculture lands can sell their development rights through two Thurston County programs. The goal of these programs is to preserve farmland while allowing owners to get the economic value of their land's development potential. Thurston County purchases development rights through the Conservation Futures program. The transfer program is explained below.



Transfer of Development Rights

Eligible ag landowners in an approved Sending Area (see map below in "Where Credits May be Used" section) may transfer development rights in the form of credits to a developer while continuing to farm the land. Developers may buy the credits and use them to increase building density in Receiving Areas (map below). Five acres in the Long-Term Agriculture zoning district equals one credit. No acreage minimums. Property must be certified by Thurston County government to be eligible. 


Application Forms & Materials

Please contact Andrew Deffobis.


How it Works for Landowners

This program only applies to land zoned Long-Term Agriculture. Submit required applications, a map of the site, legal description, a title report, the number of existing units on the property, and any fees. If the property is certified by the County, the property owner signs a permanent easement, which is recorded with the Thurston County Auditor. Although the development rights are transferred, the land may continue to be used for agricultural purposes, as permitted under the Long-Term Agriculture zoning district, except that to build any additional residences, the owner must have retained rights for each new dwelling unit.


Developers wishing to purchase development rights

may contact the County for a list of eligible farmland owners who are interested in selling their development rights. The cost of a TDR is negotiated between the buyer and seller – there is no set price. Once both parties agree to the exchange, a Deed of Transfer must be recorded with the Thurston County Auditor. To use a TDR within one of the specified receiving areas, the developer must provide a signed and recorded certificate for each unit of density as part of the permitting process.


Where Credits May be Used

Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and Thurston County approved Receiving Areas (Map of Sending & Receiving Areas - PDF) where credits from certified development rights can be used to achieve specific urban densities. Receiving areas exist both within city boundaries and in urban growth areas (UGAs). All other land use and development regulations will continue to apply; the maximum allowable density on a parcel may be limited by factors such as critical areas or sanitary code restrictions.

​Location ​Receiving Area Zoning ​Approved Usage ​Code Reference
​Grand Mound UGA ​Residential 3-6 ​1 additional unit of density above 5 dwelling unites (du)/acre ​TCC 20.15
​Residential 4-16 ​1 additional unit of density above 15 du/acre ​TCC 20.21A
​Olympia (City & UGA) ​Residential 4-8 ​1 additional unit of density above 7 dwelling units/acre; OR one less unit of density below 5 du/acre TCC 23.04.080

​OMC 18.04.080

​Lacey (City & UGA) ​Mixed Use Moderate Density Corridor ​Density bonus above 12 residential units/acre (standard density is 8-12 du/acre) TCC 21.11

​LMC 16.22

​Mixed Use High Density Corridor Density bonus above 20 residential units/acres (standard density is 12-20 du/acre) ​TCC 21.23

LMC 16.22
​Moderate Density Residential Zone  ​Density bonus above 12 du/acre (standard density is 6-12 du/acre) ​TCC 21.15

LMC 16.15

​High Density Residential Zone  ​Density bonus above 20 du/acre (standard density is 6-20 du/acre) ​TCC 21.18

LMC 16.18
​Tumwater (City & UGA) ​Single Family Low Density 4-7 1 additional unit of density above 6 du/acre ​TCC 22.10.050

TMC 18.10.050
​Single Family Medium Density 6-9 ​1 additional unit of density above 8 du/acre ​TCC 22.14.050

TMC 18.12.050
​Multifamily Medium Density 9-15 1 additional unit of density above 14 du/acre TCC 22.14.050

​TMC 18.14.050

​Multifamily High Density 14-29 ​Up to 4 additional units of density above 25 dwelling units/acre ​TCC 22.14.050

TMC 18.16.050


More Program Details

Regulatory Reasons for the Work

The Washington State Legislature through its Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A) requires county governments to reduce urban sprawl, preserve rural character, maintain open spaces, and protect natural resources.  

County Regulations 

Regulatory details for these programs are in the Thurston County code. Chapter 20.62-Transfer of Development Rights; Chapter 17.35-Purchase of Development Rights.