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Five Things Land Development Professionals Need to Know

Land development isn’t as easy as scoping out the land before construction begins. It’s a complicated process that needs to be done right. So if you’re looking for a site to develop or if you have a piece of property that you are ready to develop, here are five things you need to know before you begin.

1) Zoning/Land Use

Zoning is the first thing you should check before you buy the land and before you approve any sort of construction as it determines what type of building can be built there. Some areas only allow for commercial construction, while others are restricted to residential. In other words, you cannot build a single-family home in an area that’s set aside for shops and restaurants.

You can apply for zoning changes in some instances, but it can lengthen your timeline by up to 3 months, as well as cost you more money. Application for zoning changes typically requires a site plan, landscape plan, and building elevations. Generally, there is also an application administrative fee.

2) Restrictions

Know the restrictions! Some pieces of land are not allowed to be developed, even if you own them. Here are a few:


Wetlands are environmentally sensitive areas that are protected by law.

Floodplains are areas that commonly get flooded by rainfall or a nearby body of water and are considered dangerous to build on.

You cannot build on either of them for the safety of the land and your future tenants. However, you can apply to reverse these restrictions. 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.

It’s expensive too. Floodplain studies can cost from $20,000-$40,000 for consultant fees, and review fees with FEMA are approximately $7,000-$8,000.

Historic or Archaeological Designation

Some sites are deemed historical by law and cannot be developed, torn down, or changed in a dramatic way. In most cases, the renovations and repairs have to be historically accurate to match the time period the land was used in. All of this means that if you buy a historic piece of land, you generally have to keep it as is.

This includes any archaeological concerns (typically underground and unseen) like escarpment areas or other important formations, buildings, and burial or dig sites.

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 entirely — unless you’re a history buff and want to preserve the land instead of developing it.

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 affect the land’s value and developability.

3) Utility Availability

Before you purchase land for development or approve any development plans, make sure utilities can be set up on the property. Water, sewer, storm water, gas, electric, high-speed internet, 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.

You may think all of these will be readily available, but it depends on your area. For example, in Tennessee, only 22% of residents have access to high-speed internet. To avoid this, check on the availability of necessary utilities early on in the process and coordinate with the utility companies early to make sure everything goes smoothly.

4) Traffic Access

In a world that loves convenience, you want to make sure it is easy and convenient for the future resident/customer to get to your land development project. Consider the traffic and access to the land. 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.

5) Detention

If you don’t want your land to flood after a severe rainstorm, then you’ll need to figure out detention. The storm water detention aims to detain the extra runoff increased by land development and reduce the peak flows to pre-development or existing conditions.

With the last decade’s increased storm occurrence, storm water management has become stricter and often requires surface ponds or underground ones to keep the land from flooding. Which one you choose requires careful consideration of the land and project.

If you need help getting started or are looking for a land development company to make the process easier, give BC a call at 480-900-1991 or visit us online.

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