San Marcos, Texas

San Marcos, population 44,894 (2010), lies 45 miles northeast of San Antonio, Texas. To preserve environmentally-sensitive areas along the San Marcos and Blanco rivers, the City adopted a transfer of development rights program that has accomplished some preservation. After completion of the program profile that appears in Beyond Takings and Givings, San Marcos amended the code section dealing with TDR. Consequently, the following Process section of this profile has been rewritten based on the TDR provisions contained in the San Marcos Land Development Code in 2011.


Section of the San Marcos Development Code describes a Development Transfer (DT) overlay zone consisting of a Development Transfer Granting (DTG) district, the sending site, and a Development Transfer Receiving District (DTR) district, the receiving site. The DTG district overlays land in residential or non-residential zones located over the Edwards Aquifer or containing watershed protection zones, buffers, floodplains or other significant environmental land. Either residential density, impervious cover or non-residential floor area can be transferred from the DTG to the DTR overlay zone. Inter-jurisdictional transfers can occur from or to sites within the City’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in accordance with an annexation or development agreement.

Separate allocation ratios are provided for transfers of residential density, impervious coverage and non-residential square footage as follows.

  • A table in the TDR code section establishes the number of dwelling units that can be transferred from the DTG per acre of land based on the underlying zoning. Transferred units can increase the base density of the DTR district by 50 percent.
  • When impervious coverage is being transferred, the resulting increase in dwelling units cannot exceed a 50 percent increase over base residential density in the DTR. Both residential density and impervious cover may be transferred, but the maximum achievable bonus on the DTR is still capped at 50 percent above base density.
  • When non-residential square footage is transferred from a DTG, the resulting square footage allowed on the DTR is limited to 25 percent more than the base square footage allowed by the underlying zone in the DTR.

When development is proposed to transfer residential units to a DTR, the density limits imposed by the TDR requirements apply rather than the minimum lot size of the underlying zoning district. When developers apply to transfer non-residential floor area, they must submit a concept plan for the DTR showing the proposed site plan, development phasing, public improvements, amenities and open space. In lieu of a concept plan, developers may submit a cluster development plan. Once a concept plan or cluster development plan is approved for a DTR, all subsequent development must comply with these plans.

Program Status

In 1994, Ron Patterson, the San Marcos Director of Planning at that time, reported that the San Marcos TDR program has experienced only a few transfers. In these transfers, land near the San Marcos River was preserved as Open Space and transferred primarily to multiple-family residential receiving sites. He added that receiving sites could readily be granted zoning changes to a higher density if they are well located. Consequently, there was less reason for the owner of a potential receiving site to incur the extra cost of buying development rights. Mr. Patterson also commented that the potential for transfers was limited because most of the land in the sending zone along the River was already in public ownership.