Land Development Basics: 10 Things Developers Need to Know
By Grayson Hughes, PE
Looking for a site to develop? Following are the Top 10 things to check at the outset, and why.
1. Zoning/Land Use
- Check site’s zoning, and allowed land uses within it. The proposed development may not be allowed in existing zoning, requiring a change.
- Time: Process may lengthen permitting by 60-90 days.
- Cost: Application for zoning changes typically requires a site plan, landscape plan, and building elevations. Generally, there is also an application administrative fee (usually less than $1,000).
2. Floodplain/Wetlands/Waters of the US
- The presence of environmentally sensitive areas affect your site’s buildable area. Floodplain limits are delineated by FEMA Floodplain Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). Wetlands are defined by the US Army Corps of Engineers, along with other Jurisdictional Waters of the US.
- Time: Floodplain mitigation, wetlands mitigation, or Waters of the US disturbance permitting can be time-consuming. Floodplain mitigation takes anywhere from 3-6 months to a year, depending on severity. Wetlands and Waters of the US disturbance, if over 0.1 acres or greater than 200 linear feet of a stream, takes a year to 18 months to permit.
- Cost: Floodplain studies, depending on severity, cost from $20,000-$40,000 for consultant fees, and review fees with FEMA are approximately $7,000-$8,000. Consultant’s cost of Jurisdictional Water studies can be minimal at $5,000; however, mitigation credits are very costly and development prohibitive.
3. Other Restrictions/Restraints/Easements
- Other site restrictions, like deed restrictions, easements for utilities, access or slope, water wells, gas wells, drilling sites, railroads, airway paths, and the like may be site encroachments affecting its value and developability.
- Time: Depending on the encroachment, different agencies and authorities review times vary, as can permitting processes for encroachment adjustment or removal.
- Cost: Again, variable depending on the encroachment.
4. Utility Availability
- Utilities’ site proximity is very important. Water, sewer, stormwater, gas, electric, fiber, and cable are all necessary for successful development. If any of these utilities are needed and not available, off-site improvements may be necessary to accommodate.
- Time: Offsite plans preparation and approvals will not significantly delay the process; however, coordination and procurement with the utility company can. Early coordination is key!
- Cost: Off-site improvements always add cost, varying with the scope of necessary improvements.
- Traffic and access is a major consideration for any new development. Depending on its use, a Traffic Impact Analysis may be required. Additionally, roadway improvements, driveway accesses, and off-site improvements could be triggered if the development has high-density traffic demands.
- Time: Traffic Impact Analyses are typically completed in about 60 days. Off-site improvements add additional scope and extend construction time.
- Cost: Traffic Impact Analyses, depending on scope, cost $15,000-$45,000. If the project is a larger, mixed-use endeavor, it requires multiple access and roadway analyses. Additionally, TIA’s recommendations can result in additional off-site improvement costs.
- With the last decade’s increased storm occurrence, stormwater management becomes a bigger issue. Detention requirements are stricter, affecting a project site’s buildable area. Detention options include either surface ponds or underground. The required detention requires consideration when assessing any development site.
- Time: Detention calculations can be done as part of the design process with no delays.
- Cost: Detention cost varies depending on size and location. Surface ponds are more affordable and easily maintained but require valuable real estate. Underground detention is costlier but hidden from view and use the footprint for parking, walkways, or other non-structural purposes.
- Look for trees on your site and understand and any municipal mitigation requirements. Understand landscape setback requirements, open space requirements, maximum impervious coverage requirements, and screening requirements. All could significantly impact site plan development and project cost.
- Time: No time delay.
- Cost: Tree mitigation credits significantly impact cost if you cannot provide tree replacement. Mitigation can be inch-for-inch replacement or more. Screening wall costs vary depending on the municipality’s required screening material.
8. Impact Fees
- Most municipalities assess impact fees. They are typically charged for water, sewer, and roadway (transportation). Sometimes fees are all rolled into a building permit fee; other times they are charged separately as part of the site permit. Typically, they are paid upon permit issuance.
- Time: No time delay.
- Cost: These can be very costly depending on the municipality and the fee schedule for each.
9. Historic or Archaeological Designation
- If an existing development is designated historic, it can affect the project timing and cost. They include any archaeological concerns (typically underground and unseen) like escarpment areas or other important formations, and burial or dig sites.
- Time: If existing buildings are historic, there may be very few options – renovation and relocation. Often, removal is not allowed. Approval from a landmark commission can take significant time; design coordination may require additional time as well. If the site has an archaeological issue, it is best to avoid it.
- Cost: Time is money, as is upgraded or historic design. With archaeological issues, lost land cost may be the most significant.
- Is the site required to be divided or combined? If so, a subdivision plat is likely required. The plat’s purpose is to either create a platted lot (if only a fee-simple tract), combine several lots into one, or subdivide a single lot into multiple lots.
- Time: Often, preliminary plats are required before site permit issuance. Some cities require a final plat before permit, and some once construction is completed. Check local subdivision codes to determine which affect you.
- Cost: Subdivisions have no associated material costs; however, consultant fees range depending on the subdivision’s size and complexity. Additionally, sometimes platting can trigger additional requirements.
Are you looking at developing a site? Contact your local WGI connection and ask how we can help you! Whether it’s a quick look at your site or a full site investigation report, we can help you understand the necessary elements and scope.