The City of Escondido is currently considering the creation of a program to incentivize more housing development in the downtown area. The proposed program, called the Density Transfer Program (or Transfer Development Rights Program), would allow the transfer of residential density from underutilized properties to developing properties to build more housing in efficient locations where we already have infrastructure and public services nearby.


Over the next few weeks, the Program will be reviewed and considered by the City's decision-makers. Before a final decision is made about the Program, we want give you the opportunity to review important information learn about the program, and share your comments. The following information has been provided to help residents, businesses, and other community members learn more about the proposed program and provide a way to provide feedback.


March 26, 2019 Planning Commission Staff Report (agenda packet link)*

* item continued to April 9, 2019 Planning Commission

Draft Density Transfer Program (March 26, 2019) 

What is the Proposed Program?

The City of Escondido sets zoning rules and regulations for particular types of land use. Some residential areas might allow only single-family homes, while others may also include apartments and townhouses. Under existing rules, a property owner may want to build less housing than what is otherwise permitted on his/her land.


This would not change under the proposed Program. The proposed Transfer Development Rights Program would not change the nature of existing property owner rights - property owners in the downtown area can still decide how and when to develop their property.


The purpose of the proposed Program is to establish a creative land use strategy reflective of changing needs, resources, and conditions to maintain flexible land use management and to encourage the full build-out of the downtown area.  The program is an optional program - and would allow property owners to re-assign or transfer units - only if they wanted to. That is, if a property owner chooses to not maximize their development rights and build-out their site to its full potential, the proposed program allows for the transfer or remaining and unused housing density to another, future project in the downtown area.


What is Residential Density?


Residential density is the amount of housing on a piece of land. In the case of the Downtown Specific Plan, density is generally planned at 45, 75, or 100 residential units per acre of land (except in areas where no new residential density is permitted). This type of residential density is intended to facilitate apartment and condominium housing development in the downtown, in key areas that support smart growth and sustainable principles.


What are the Benefits of the Proposed Program for the Downtown?


  • New residential growth in the downtown would increase the frequency and volume of pedestrian activity and thereby increase business and boost the downtown economy.
  • The Program would help incentivize future development - and keep it in the downtown area to support nearby retailers, services, entertainment, and attract other new businesses that are part of a desirable downtown economy.
  • The overall amount of new development within the downtown would remain the same - however, if a new project leaves some density on the table and doesn't build-out their site fully, the Program creates a flexible way to still achieve the ultimate build-out of the downtown and create a future sustainable center of activity.
  • The Program helps accommodate the city's share of future regional housing needs with greater mix of housing types and choices, which benefits everyone in the community.

What does the Program NOT do?


  • It does NOT change the nature of existing property owner rights.
  • The City does NOT approach property owners about potential transfers - units would be transferred ONLY if a property owner decides to do it.
  • The Program does NOT guide future decision making. The City would continue processing application materials in accordance with all relevant local, state, and federal laws.
  • It does NOT eliminate the public's role in review of new projects. Future projects requesting transfers would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and be fully considered at open, public hearings, just like it is today.

How would the City Administer the Program?


Escondido plans and regulates the use of land to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of our community. Because the use of land is regulated, the City must review all projects against this policy and regulatory framework before any buildings can be constructed.


  • A "sending area" can send unused density to the Program when they are done developing the property. Residential units that transferred from undeveloped or underutilized properties (sending areas) are placed in a density credit pool and are held until there are developing properties (receiving areas) acquire the density.
  • The City could, potentially, kick start the density credit pool with unused density from city-owned parcels within the DSP.
  • A deed restriction would be placed on a sending area property to document the transfer of unused density into the pool. City Council approval is required to transfer the units to the credit pool. City Council approval is also required for receiving areas to request the density.
  • The Program allows full public review of proposed transfers, as well as proposed receipt of transfers, each though public hearings with the City Council.
  • A "receiving area" can request density from the Density Credit Pool as part of a Planned Development Permit application and a Development Agreement reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission and City Council.
  • Density transfers would be routinely monitored to ensure that the number of dwelling units for the downtown area would not exceed the buildout of 5,275 units as allocated in the General Plan.
  • An annual report to the City Council regarding the density pool would be presented by staff to outline approved projects, constructed projects, balance left in the density pool and recommendations for the upcoming year.

What does "Density Bonus" mean and how does it differ from the Program?


The State of California (Gov't Code Section 66915-65918) encourages the development of affordable and senior housing by providing developers with the opportunity to increase their project density up to 35 percent. Included in the density bonus law are incentives intended to help make the development of affordable and senior housing economically feasible by reducing parking, minimum square footage for units, concessions for reduced setbacks, and other development standards.


The Program is a proposed to encourage development in the downtown city core by transferring density from one parcel where development is not proposed or imminent to a developing property. A density transfer request will be subject to the Planned Development Permit and Development Agreement process and will be reviewed or scrutinized of its own merits based on environmental concerns, city regulations, and development design and zoning standards. A density bonus application may be sought in conjunction with a density transfer as allowed per the proposed Program.


What is Needed from the Public?


We are seeking out public feedback about the proposed Program. To learn more about the Program, the anticipated transfer process, the current status of the Program, or to offer input, please contact Assistant Planning Director Mike Strong at or 760-839-4556.