Whether starting with raw “green field” conditions or a fully developed existing property, a thorough analysis of the site is a precursor to a successful project. According to the Urban Land Institute, 80-90% of project value is created during the pre-design stage. An owner or developer needs to fully understand costs and risks with any site that is under consideration.
Careful site analysis includes assessment of a host of factors:
- Physical characteristics such as location, size, topography, drainage, geology, environmental, supportive infrastructure, easements and rights-of-way, and accessibility;
- Regulatory issues such as zoning, platting, land use restrictions, driveway/traffic restrictions, emergency services requirements, landscape ordinances, special use permits, and development overlay districts;
- Financing concerns such as clearing titles, access to capital, ratios of equity to debt, availability of bridge funding, investments in remediation, and relative cost of land as a ratio of total project cost,
- Risk mitigation through early detection of project hazards that could indicate a need to change direction.
All of these factors affect the Owner/Developer’s ability to achieve the necessary entitlements, which are the legal means for development of the project. Whether the Owner is a private or public entity has some bearing on the process, as well as on intended outcomes. For example, a school system does not generally have to consider its return on investment for a new school site. Rather, it’s greater concerns will be funding the site acquisition through a political process such as a bond election and early elimination of development constraints. A for-profit developer has additional concerns about managing financial risk and providing an acceptable return to lenders and investors.
As a fundamental part of the project planning process, site analysis often sets the direction toward which every design idea will flow. The analysis of a building program and the ability of a site to accommodate it, combined with an assessment of political, environmental, and regulatory issues will help reveal the development value of a parcel of land. This makes site analysis an essential part of creating a successful building design and development plan that can ultimately protect an investment and save organizations both time and money in the long run.
Because the initial investment in site acquisition and entitlements is a front-end at-risk expense, it is valuable to an Owner/Developer that, by the start of construction, risks should be reduced to factors that have already been addressed and are controlled through good management.
WKMC provides many of the services necessary to site analysis with its own personnel. It is typical that other services might be included. Those could include civil engineering, surveying, geotechnical engineering and testing, hydrology studies, environmental assessments (and/or environmental impact statements), financial pro formas, and cost estimating.
The complexity of factors in site selection and development is not to be taken lightly. Experienced professional help from WKMC Architects can go a long way toward achieving a successful project.