Tips & Suggestions for Developing Your Land

A chinese lion statueYour local city or county government will help you find out about most of the requirements for developing your property, however, their primary job is to protect the public and possible future owners of your land, not to help you develop your property in the way that is actually best for you.

Here are some suggestions on how to avoid the most common pitfalls that developers and architects often miss until it is too late.  Being aware of these issues before you purchase a piece of property and begin design (and especially before you begin construction!) can help save you from many headaches, delays, and retrofit costs.

  • Consider getting a soils/geotechnical investigation before you buy or build on a site, especially for a large project.  Expansive soils, high water tables, slide zones, and mining subsidence conditions can be worked with, but you will want to know about the possible extra construction costs beforehand.
  • Oil, gas and other mineral rights can legally render significant portions of a property as non-build-able.  You will want to account for this in your master plan.  The good news is that the exact placements of oil/gas wells and their access roads are often negotiable, especially with the help of a savvy oil & gas attorney.
  • Allocate about 8% - 15% of your land for a stormwater detention / water quality area.  This usually (but not always!) needs to be at the downhill end of your property.  The good news is that a portion of these stormwater detention areas can often be placed in “setback” areas, and you can usually get credit towards open space requirements with this part of your site as well.  (There are also some special cases when you might not need a stormwater detention area at all, such as sites disturbing less than ½ acre or certain sites adjacent to a creek.)
  • Fire department requirements are often an overlooked issue.  The roads to and through your site will need to meet specific requirements regarding turning radius and steepness, and the location of your building(s) can also be affected by other fire department criteria.  For larger structures, you will also want to check on fire sprinkler requirements - it may be that by having 1,000 less feet of floor space you can avoid the cost of having to install a fire sprinkler.
  • Make sure your architect and civil engineer talk to each other about floor elevations, site grading, and drainage issues, especially in urban areas or “tight” sites.  If your building’s floor elevation needs to be higher in order to meet drainage/flood code, it is much better to find this out BEFORE the architect has completed the final design of your building.
  • If your property is near a creek, or even a dry gully, check to see if the property is in a floodplain.  Usually this will be discovered during the property’s title investigation, but not always.  If it turns out that the property is (or might be) in a floodplain, there are still potential ways to develop the property, but you will want to research this before you decide how (or whether) to build there.  Note: even if a flood map gives a theoretical 100-year flood water elevation, don’t assume that you will be high and dry if you only build 12” above this elevation - - for your own peace of mind, consider going a foot or three higher than what the city/county requires.
  • Finally, try to remember that your city and county building requirements were written by people trying to help their community’s development happen in a safe and attractive way.  As such, there are usually good reasons why a rule is in place, and, at the same time, there are occasionally exceptions to the rule and ways to negotiate with your jurisdiction.  Being reasonable and courteous to those people whose job it is explain, interpret, and enforce the development criteria will usually pay off in the long run, no matter how difficult the process might seem.