Current Use Programs
INFORMATION AND INSTRUCTIONS
WHEN APPLYING FOR CURRENT USE ASSESSMENT
ON BASIS OF CURRENT USE UNDER THE
"OPEN SPACE LAW"
CHAPTER 84.34 RCW AND CHAPTER 458-30 WAC
The Open Space Taxation Act, enacted in 1970, allows property owners to have their
open space, farm and agricultural, and timberlands valued at their current use rather
than their highest and best use. The Act states that it is in the best interest
of the State to maintain, preserve, conserve, and otherwise continue in existence
adequate open space lands for the production of food, fiber, and forest crops and
to assure the use and enjoyment of natural resources and scenic beauty for the economic
and social well-being of the State and its citizens.
WHAT LANDS QUALIFY FOR CLASSIFICATION
The law provides three classifications:
Open Space Land, Farm and Agricultural Land, and Timber Land
Open Space land is defined as either:
- Any land area zoned for open space by a comprehensive land use plan adopted by a
city or county legislative authority, or
- Any land area in which the preservation in its present use would:
- Conserve and enhance natural or scenic resources,
- Protect streams or water supply,
- Promote conservation of soils, wetlands, beaches or tidal marshes,
- Enhance the value to the public of abutting or neighboring parks, forest, wildlife
preserves, nature reservations or sanctuaries or other open space,
- Enhance recreation opportunities,
- Preserve historic sites,
- Preserve visual quality along highway, road, and street corridor or scenic vistas,
- Retain in its natural state tracts of land not less than one acre situated in an
urban area and open to public use on such conditions as may be reasonably required
by the granting authority.
- Or, any land meeting the definition of "farm and agricultural conservation land"
which means either:
- Land previously classified under farm and agriculture classification that no longer
meets the criteria and is reclassified under open space land, or
- "Traditional farmland", not classified, that has not been irrevocably devoted to
a use inconsistent with agricultural uses, and that has a high potential for returning
to commercial agriculture.
Farm and Agricultural land is defined as either:
- Any parcel of land that is twenty or more acres or multiple parcels of land that
are contiguous and total twenty or more acres:
- Devoted primarily to the production of livestock or agricultural commodities for
- Enrolled in a cropland retirement program administered by the United States Department
- Any parcel of land that is five acres or more but less than twenty acres devoted
primarily to agricultural uses equivalent to:
- One hundred dollars or more per acre per year for three of the five calendar years
preceding the date of application for classification made prior to January 1, 1993,
- On or after January 1, 1993, two hundred dollars or more per acre per year for three
of the five calendar years preceding the date of application for classification;
- Any parcel of land of less than five acres devoted primarily to agricultural uses
which has produced a gross income of:
- One thousand dollars or more per year for three of the five calendar years preceding
the date of application made prior to January 1, 1993, and
- On or after January 1, 1993, fifteen hundred dollars or more per year for three
of the five calendar years preceding the date of application for classification.
- "Farm and agricultural land" also includes:
- Incidental uses compatible with agricultural purposes provided such use does not
exceed twenty percent of the classified land;
- Land on which appurtenances necessary for production, preparation, or sale of agricultural
products exist in conjunction with the lands producing such products;
- Any noncontiguous parcel one to five acres, that is an integral part of the farming
- Land on which housing for employees and principal place of residence of the farm
operation or owner is sited provided the use of the housing or residence is integral
to the use of the classified land for agricultural purposes and provided that the
classified parcel is twenty or more acres.
means any parcel of land that
is five or more acres or multiple parcels of land that are contiguous and total
five or more acres which is or are devoted primarily to the growth and harvest of
forest crops for commercial purposes.
WHO MAY APPLY
An owner or contract purchaser may apply for current use assessment under the open
space law. However, all owners or contract purchasers must sign the application
for classification, and any resulting agreement. Application forms are available
form the county assessor's office or from the county planning office.
Applications may be made for classification at any time during the year from January
1 through December 31. Current use valuation assessment begins on January 1 in the
year following the year the application was filed.
WHERE TO APPLY
Farm and agricultural land classification is filed with the assessor of the county
where the property is located.
Open space and timber land classification is filed with the county legislative authority.
Timber land applications require that a timber management plan
be filed also.
The city or county legislative authority may, at their discretion, require a
processing fee to accompany each application. Such fee shall be in an amount
that reasonably covers the processing costs of the application. San Juan
County's application fee for Current Use Farm and Agriculture is $250.00.
ASSESSOR TO RESPOND TO FARM AND AGRICULTURAL CLASSIFICATION APPLICATIONS
The assessor shall act on each application for classification as farm and agricultural
with due regard to all relevant evidence, and may approve the application in whole
or in part.
Upon application for classification, the assessor may require applicants to provide
data regarding the use of such land, including the productivity of typical crops,
sales receipts, federal income tax returns, other related income and expense data
and any other information relevant to the application.
The application shall be considered approved unless the assessor notifies the applicant
in writing prior to May 1st of the year following the year the application was made.
The assessor shall record an approval of classification with the county auditor
for public recording of the tax lien on real property.
APPEALING DENIAL OF FARM AND AGRICULTURAL APPLICATION
The owner may appeal the assessor's denial to the Board of Equalization in the county
where the property is located. The appeal must be filed with the board within thirty
days after the mailing of the notice of denial.
OPEN SPACE LAND APPLICATIONS ACTED ON BY GRANTING AUTHORITY WITHIN SIX MONTHS
Applications for classification or reclassification as "open space land" are made
to the appropriate agency or official called the "granting authority". If the open
space is located in the county's unincorporated area, the county legislative authority
shall be the granting authority on the application. However, if the land is located
within a city or town, the application shall be acted upon by a joint county/city
legislative authority consisting of three members of the county legislative authority
and three members of the city legislative authority.
If a comprehensive plan has been enacted, an application for classification or reclassification
shall be processed as a proposed amendment to that plan. If there is no comprehensive
land use plan, a public hearing on the application shall be conducted after notice
announcing the hearing is published at least ten days prior to the hearing.
The granting authority shall either approve or reject the application in whole or
in part within six months from the receipt of the application. In determining whether
an application made for classification or reclassification should be approved or
disapproved, the granting authority may consider the benefits to the general welfare
of preserving the current use of the property. They may require that certain conditions
be met including but not limited to the granting of easements.
If approved, in whole or in part, the granting authority shall, within five days
of the approval date, send an Open Space Taxation Agreement to the applicant for
signature showing the land classification and conditions imposed.
may accept or reject the agreement. If the applicant accepts, he or she must sign
and return the agreement to the granting authority within twenty-five days after
the mailing of the agreement.
The granting or denial of the application for classification or reclassification
is a legislative determination and shall be reviewable only for arbitrary and capricious
actions. Appeal can be made only to the superior court of the county where the application
Within ten days of receiving notice from the granting authority of classification
of land, the assessor submits such notice to the county auditor for recording in
the place and manner provided for the public recording of state tax liens on real
Current use valuation will begin on January 1 of the year following the year the
application was filed. The criteria for classification continues to apply after
classification has been granted.
OPEN SPACE LAND PUBLIC BENEFIT RATING SYSTEM
If the county legislative authority has established a public benefit rating system
for the Open Space classification, the criteria contained within the rating system
shall govern the eligibility of the lands described in each application filed for
that classification and the current use valuation of that land.
When a county creates a benefit rating system, all current use applications will
be rated under the new system. A parcel that no longer qualifies for classification
will not be removed form classification, but will be rated according to the rating
The owner, within thirty days after receiving notification of the new value established
by the public benefit rating system, may request removal of classification of such
parcel without application of the additional tax or penalty.
TIMBERLAND CLASSIFICATION REQUIRES FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN
Applications for current use timber land classification are made to the county legislative
timber management plan
is filed at the
time of application or when a sale or transfer of timber land occurs and a notice
of continuance is signed.
Classification shall be acted upon after public hearing in a similar manner to open
space land classification within six months following the date the application is
Granting or denial of an application is a legislative determination and shall be
reviewable only for arbitrary and capricious action. The granting authority may not
require the granting of easements for timber land.
The application form requires information about a forest management plan, restocking,
fire protection, insect and disease control, weed control, and any other summary
of experience and activity that supports the growth and harvest of forest crops
for commercial purpose.
DETERMINATION OF VALUE
The assessor is required to maintain two values for each parcel that is classified.
The first is the value that would be placed on the land if it was not classified.
This is commonly referred to as the "fair market value." The second is the current
use land value based on its present use as classified by the granting authority.
The process for determining the value of open space lands is spelled out in statute.
The assessor shall consider only the use to which such property is currently applied
and shall not consider potential uses of such property.
- Open space land located within a county that has established a public benefit rating
system will be valued according to the criteria of the rating system. In absence
of a rating system, the valuation will be no less than that for farm and agricultural
- In determining the current use value of farm and agricultural land the assessor
shall consider the earning or productive capacity of comparable lands from crops
grown most typically in the area averaged over not less than five years. This earning
or productive capacity shall be the "net cash rental" and shall be capitalized by
a "rate of interest" charged on long term loans secured by a mortgage on farm or
agricultural land plus a component for property taxes.
- Timber land is valued according to the schedule prepared by the Department of Revenue
for the Timber Tax law, Chapter 84.33 RCW.
POTENTIAL TAX LIABILITY - LENGTH OF TIME IN CLASSIFICATION
When land is classified as either farm and agricultural land, open space, or timber
land, it shall not be applied to any other use for a period of not less than ten
years unless transferred or reclassified into another current use classification
or an early withdrawal penalty will apply. The land continues in current use classification
after the ten year period until a request for withdrawal is made by the owner at
which time the compensating back tax and interest but no penalty will be levied.
The compensating tax, interest and penalty will be levied if the use of land no
longer complies, or the ownership has changed and the new owner has not signed a
Notice of Continuance. The notice of withdrawal or removal is recorded with the
county auditor in the same manner as the recording of state tax liens on real property.
SALE OF CLASSIFIED LAND
When classified land is sold, the seller or transferor becomes liable at the time
of sale for the additional tax, interest, and penalty unless the new owner(s) signs
the Notice of Continuance which is attached to or shown on the excise tax affidavit.
The county auditor shall not accept an instrument of conveyance on any classified
land unless the Notice of Continuance has been signed or the additional tax had
been paid. The assessor shall determine if the land qualifies for continued classification
at the time of transfer.
OWNER MAY REQUEST WITHDRAWAL
If the owner intends to withdraw all or a portion of the land from classification
after ten years, two years prior notice must be given to the county assessor. This
notice can be filed after the eighth assessment year of the initial ten year classification
period. If a portion of a parcel is removed from classification, the remaining portion
must meet the requirements of original classification unless the remaining parcel
has different income criteria.
ACTION ON WITHDRAWAL
Upon receipt of a request for withdrawal, the assessor shall notify the legislative
authority which originally approved the classification and, when two years have
elapsed, the assessor shall withdraw the land from classification. The land which
is withdrawn from classification shall be subject to an additional tax equal to
the difference between the amount of tax paid under the classification and the tax
at true and fair value for the last seven years, plus interest at the statutory
rate charged on delinquent property taxes.
OWNER TO NOTIFY ASSESSOR OF CHANGE IN USE
An owner changing the use of land from a classified use must notify the county assessor
within sixty days of this action. The assessor shall remove the land from classified
status and impose and additional tax equal to the difference between the tax paid
on current use value and the tax that would have been paid on that land had it not
been so classified, payable for the last seven years, plus interest at the same
rate as charged on delinquent property taxes, plus a penalty of twenty percent of
the total amount.
TAXES ALLOCATED TO PORTION OF YEAR
Assessed valuation before and after removal of classification shall be listed and
allocated according to that part of the year to which each assessed valuation applies.
CRITERIA FOR CLASSIFICATION CONTINUES TO APPLY AFTER CLASSIFICATION HAS BEEN GRANTED
Owner of classified land must continue to meet the criteria established for classification
or the assessor may remove the land from the current use classification.
After giving the owner written notice and an opportunity to be heard, the assessor
may determine that all or a portion of the land no longer meets the criteria for
REMOVAL OF LAND CLASSIFICATION BY COUNTY ASSESSOR MAY BE APPEALED
Within thirty days after the removal from classification, the assessor shall notify
the owner in writing explaining the reasons for removal. The owner has thirty days
following the date the notice was mailed by the assessor to file an appeal of the
removal of classification to County Board of Equalization.
ADDITIONAL TAX DUE
At the time land is removed from classification it becomes subject to any additional
tax, applicable interest, and a penalty which shall be due and payable to the county
treasurer within thirty days after the owner is notified. The penalty is not imposed
if the removal satisfies the ten year requirement.
LIEN OF TAXES
Any additional tax, applicable interest, and penalty, becomes a lien on the land
at the time the land is removed from classification. This lien shall have priority
over any other encumbrance on the land. Such lien may be foreclosed upon expiration
of the same period after delinquency in the same manner as delinquent real property
DISTRIBUTION OF ADDITIONAL TAXES
Upon collection, the additional tax shall be distributed by the county treasurer
in the same manner in which current taxes applicable to the subject land are distributed.
WHEN REMOVAL OF LAND IS NOT SUBJECT TO ADDITIONAL TAX
The additional tax, applicable interest, and penalty shall not be imposed if the
removal of classification results solely from:
- Land is transferred to a government entity in exchange for other land located in
the State of Washington;
- Land taken through the exercise of the power of eminent domain, or sale of transferred
in anticipation of the exercise of such power was received in writing or by other
- A natural disaster changes the use of such land;
- Official action by the state, county, or city disallows the present use of such
- Transfer of land to a church when such land would qualify for exemptions granted
- Acquisition of property interests by state agencies or agencies or organizations
qualified under RCW 84.34.210 and 64.04.130 (See RCW 84.34.108(5f));or
- Removal of land classified as farm and agricultural land on which housing for employees
and/or principal place of residence is sited.
- The sale or transfer of land within two years after the death of the owner of at
least a fifty percent interest in the land if the land has been assessed and valued
as classified under this chapter continuously since 1993.
TRANSFERS BETWEEN CLASSIFICATIONS AND RECLASSIFICATIONS
Land may be reclassified, upon request by the owner, subject to all applicable qualifications
for each classification, without additional tax, interest, or penalty for the following:
- Land classified as farm and agricultural land may be reclassified to timber land;
timber land may be reclassified to farm and agricultural land.
- Land classified as either farm and agricultural, timber land or forest land under
chapter 84.33 RCW may be reclassified to open space land.
- Land classified as farm and agricultural land or timber land may be reclassified
to forest land under chapter 84.33 RCW.
- Land previously classified as farm and agricultural land may be reclassified to
open space land as "farm and agricultural conservation land" and reclassified back
to farm and agricultural land classification.
The application for transfer from classified or designated forest land to a current
use classification, must be made within 30 days from the date of removal from forest
Reclassification Approvals: Reclassification approvals are acted on in the same
manner as approvals for classification. The county assessor approves all applications
for farm and agricultural classifications and reclassifications. The granting authority
approves all land classifications or reclassifications for timber land or open space
Land being reclassified into farm and agricultural land classifications of less
than 20 acres from open space "farm and agricultural conservation land", timber
land, or forest land may have the income requirements deferred for a period of up
to five years from the date of the reclassification.
WHEN LAND IS VALUED AT CURRENT USE
Land which is classified as open space, farm and agricultural, or timber land shall
be assessed at its current use value and placed on the assessment rolls in the year
following the year of application.
Taxes upon classified land shall be due and payable in the year following the year
the land was valued at its current use and placed on the assessment rolls.
The county legislative authority shall appoint a five member committee representing
the active farming community within the county. The committee shall advise the assessor
in the assessment of farm and agricultural land, farms and agricultural lands, and
ASSESSOR MAY REQUIRE DATA
The assessor may require the owner of classified land to submit data regarding the
use of the land, productivity of typical crops, income and expense data, and similar
information regarding continued eligibility.
Complete information concerning the requirements and the
manner for making application for current use reclassification and assessments
is available at the county assessor's office. It is helpful to read the complete
law (Chapter 84.33 and .34 RCW) and rules (Chapter 458-30 WAC) to understand
requirements of the classifications and the tax liabilities incurred. Additional
information on current use taxation programs can be found at