Transfer deal preserves farm, allows Stadium apartment building to grow

Rendering of Stadium Apartments, planned for completion in 2018.
Rendering of Stadium Apartments, planned for completion in 2018. Courtesy

A Pierce County farm will stay a farm, and a Tacoma apartment building planned for the Stadium District will be allowed to grow taller.

Thus marks Tacoma’s first transfer of development rights, in which the rights to develop agricultural or forestland are sold to a builder seeking taller buildings and more units.

The farm or forest land is preserved, and housing density is increased in the right places, proponents say. In the battle against urban sprawl, planners see it as a big win.

“It permanently protects agricultural land in Pierce County, which is a huge priority with both the county and the city, so we actually have local farmland,” said Tacoma planner Ian Munce.

“Then the way it’s financed is through additional density in our downtown area, which is designed for more density.”

Because the planned Stadium Apartments is along the future Tacoma Link expansion route, it fits into the city’s focus on growing around transit, Munce added.

“It’s the first new building that’s being proposed explicitly because the Link is going in,” he said. “There are others that are doing the same thing, but this is the first one, and it’s just exciting to us that they’re going to use the TDR project proposal.”

To get approval for 21 more units, Carino and Associates, the builder of the upcoming Stadium Apartments at 102 N. G St., spent about $38,000 to buy the development rights from 20 acres of the 120-acre Reise Farm near Orting.

The historic farm is owned by the PCC Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that secures and protects Washington farmland, and is being leased by Four Elements Farm, which grows organic vegetables and blueberries.

It’s the first completed development rights swap for Pierce County, too, said senior county planner Diane Marcus-Jones, the administrator of the TDR program.

The county has been preserving farms, forests, trails and other spaces for years and has squirreled away the development rights to make hundreds of transfer transactions. But until now it hadn’t closed the loop by selling those rights to a builder.

“It’s super exciting because it’s showing the traction and getting it going, and it’s such a win-win-win for everyone,” Marcus-Jones said.

Removing development rights from farms also makes them cheaper to buy, allowing farmers to more affordably purchase agricultural land.

“Once we take the development potential away, it reduces value of the farm, so farmers can come in and stay there,” Marcus-Jones added. “It gives the ability for beginning farmers to buy property to farm with.”

Tacoma City Councilman Ryan Mello said having a successful transfer transaction in the city should demystify the process and encourage curiosity from builders in areas such as the Stadium and Proctor neighborhoods who want to add units.

“It’s really important because this is the first project in Pierce County that is actually coming full circle,” he said. “We’re actually showing that this mechanism to direct growth where growth belongs in our cities and away from our family farms and forests is actually a real, viable tool.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune