Development Agreements in Plain English
What is a Development Agreement?
A development agreement is a contract between a local jurisdiction and a person who has ownership or control of property within the jurisdiction. The purpose of the agreement is to specify the standards and conditions that will govern development of the property. The development agreement provides assurance to the developer that he/she may proceed to develop the project subject to the rules and regulations in effect at the time of approval - the development will not be subject to subsequent changes in regulations1.
Development agreements should also benefit the local jurisdiction. The city or county may include conditions (mitigation measures) that must be met to assure that a project at a specific location does not have unacceptable impacts on neighboring properties or community infrastructure. The agreement may clarify how the project will be phased, the required timing of public improvements, the developer's contribution toward funding system-wide community improvements, and other conditions. The agreement can also facilitate enforcement of requirements, since it is a contract that details the obligations of the developer and local jurisdiction.
Development Agreements as Applied in Washington
Courts have generally allowed local governments in Washington to enter into development agreements in the past for a variety of purposes.
The Local Project Review Act (Ch. 36.70B, RCW), enacted in 1995, provides specific authority and direction for development agreements. The Act does not affect the validity of a contract rezone, concomitant agreement, annexation agreement, or other agreement in effect prior to its adoption. Neither does it limit use of development agreements. As a result, such agreements may be used for any type of land development. The act specifically allows a city to enter into a development agreement for real property outside its boundaries as part of a proposed annexation or a service agreement. These agreements are voluntary, but once made, they are binding on the parties and their successors.
Development standards include permitted uses, densities, impact fees, and mitigation measures. Local jurisdictions must hold a public hearing prior to approving a development agreement and may only impose impact fees, dedications, mitigation measures, and standards as authorized by other laws.
1. In Washington, a project is subject to the regulations in effect at the time of subdivision or building permit application. However, a development agreement may include additional development standards that will govern property development for the duration of the agreement.