Preserve green open space – and get a tax break!



In last week’s Parks and Neighborhoods committee meeting, we gave four homeowners some good news – we approved their applications for a program that preserves green space in return for a tax break.

Red stars mark the locations of this year's Seattle properties.

The program, called “Current Use Taxation,” or CUT, gives tax relief to property owners who agree to maintain their property as open space.  That means the property is taxed at its current use, rather than at the rate for its “highest and best use” – the assessment method required for most land.

“Open space” here includes the following criteria:

  • Stream buffers
  • Ground water protection areas
  • Threatened or endangered wildlife habitats
  • Farmland
  • Forestland
  • Public recreation areas
  • Historic property, and others.

So if you have open space on your property that you’re willing to maintain as open space in a natural condition (which might require restoring native vegetation and getting rid of invasive species), this program might be a great way for you to cut down your property taxes and preserve some of the green that makes our city so beautiful.

How much your tax is reduced depends on how much of a “public benefit” your property provides – and that is determined  by a points system, where points are awarded for each public benefit, but the amount can range from 50-90 percent.

The points are based on the Public Benefit Rating System (PBRS) as provided for in the legal framework of King County Code chapter 20.36 and RCW 84.34. Examples of a public benefit include whether the property includes significant wildlife habitat, whether it is on a bicycle/pedestrian trail, and whether it’s open to public access.

If you apply for the program, your application will be reviewed by staff at King County, who will check your application for possible public benefits you might not have known about. For example, it might be easy for you to tell if your property is open to the public, but it might take King County to let you know whether or not your site includes salmonid habitat, is a surface water quality buffer, or qualifies as a special animal site.

These applications follow an unusual process – for applications for land within a city, the decision is made by a “granting authority” composed of three county Councilmembers and three city Councilmembers.  The Seattle City Council members are the three members of the Parks and Neighborhoods Committee, so our committee made the decisions, but there was no legislation for Full Council to vote on – instead the applications go on to County Council.

This year we had four applications in Seattle – two separate applications along Maple Creek in northeast Seattle, one on Haller Lake, and one on Puget Sound at the foot of Magnolia Bluff.  King County DNR staff and City Parks Department staff worked together and submitted analysis and recommendations to approve each of the four applications. 

You can see maps of the properties and the percentage of open space on each on the June 7, 2012 Parks and Neighborhoods committee agenda.

Find out more about how to submit an application to the CUT program here.

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