A Guide to Site Selection

Where you decide to build your structure has significant implications on a project’s price. In assessing where you want to build your facility and how much it will cost, it’s important to consider the following items:

Basic Information: These are simple questions about the site and its physical characteristics that other important site selection, or due process information depends on.

  • Who has jurisdiction over the site?  If the site is located within city limits, important regulations such as zoning are determined by a city government. If not, they are defined by a county government. This is important to know early so you know who to contact to get information about these regulations.
  • What is the size of the site and where are its boundaries?  The overall size of the site and the length of the property line against the street are important to consider in making sure that the site is compatible the goals of your structure.
  • What are the site’s soil conditions?  The soil must be investigated to determine its bearing strength, or whether or not it is suitable to build on, and overall compatibility with the project. If the soil is not capable of withstanding the building’s load, you may have to replace it or install special foundation improvements, which can be very costly. Furthermore, some soils expand when they come into contact with water, which can cause cracking in the building’s foundation. Before purchasing a property, it is vital to understand the soil and its implications.
  •  Does an analysis of the site’s history suggest potential soil contamination?  This is determined through a procedure known as a “Phase 1 Environmental,” in which a contractor or engineer investigates the site’s history and determines if there is a risk of past contamination. If the potential for contamination is identified from this review of the site and surrounding area’s history, a “Phase 2 Environmental” is conducted. In the second phase, the soil is actually tested for contamination to verify that contamination does not exist.
  •  How flat is the site?  If the site is located on a steep slope, building on it will necessitate much more groundwork and construction expenses than it would otherwise. This requires additional time and increased expenses.
  • Are there any natural resources or environmental characteristics on the site that could prevent building there or add to expenses?  If the site is home to endangered species or protected biomes (see Zoning/Legal Information), you may not be able to build there. Even if a certain environment is not protected by law, it can create difficulties and add expenses to a construction project. For example, an unpreserved wetland will have to be drained before it can be built on, which would be a pretty expensive ordeal. Furthermore, if the site has a high density of trees, building on it will, at the very least, mandate the removal of quite a few trees. In addition to the cost incurred from simply removing the trees, there also might be local regulations that impose fees for the removal of trees (see Zoning/Legal Information).
  • Are there any obvious site issues that could detract from your investment’s success?  It is often helpful to talk with people who live or work in the area to find out if there are problems with the region (e.g. high crime rates).

    Looks like this tree skipped a few site selection steps.

Zoning Information: These restrictions have direct implications on where you can and cannot build, what your building will look like, and how much it will cost. To obtain this information, contact the local city or county government that has jurisdiction over the site. Links to contact and legal information for some of the cities and counties that we frequently build in can be found here.

  • Does the current zone match up with the building’s use?  If zoning policy designates the site for a purpose that does not align with your proposed building’s purpose, you won’t be able to build there.
  • Are there aesthetic or material requirements?  Building in certain areas may require the use of a certain material or external design, which could also have substantial implications on cost and functionality. In a downtown area, for example, design regulations often require a building’s exterior to be brick.
  • Are there any landscaping requirements?  Often, in order to construct a building on a piece of property, landscaping work must be done on a certain proportion of it. Landscaping requirements can have profound repercussions on the amount of space left available for parking and the building itself. Some examples of landscaping policies are quotas on the number of trees and plants, financial penalties for cutting down trees, and buffer mandates, which necessitate the planting of trees or shrubbery in between zones.
  • Are there any environmental regulations that could interfere with building here?  It is important to make sure federal or state laws do not prohibit development of the site. If it is located on a protected wetland or is the habitat for an endangered species, for example, it will be impossible to build on the site.
  •  Are there size and height restrictions?  If regulations prevent buildings under or over a certain size, you might be forced to alter the size of the proposed building or choose a new location. Meeting size and height restrictions could have major financial implications and marginalize functionality.
  •  Are there signage requirements?  Signage regulations sometimes mandate that a business’s signs can only be in certain locations and of a certain size. If there are strict signage guidelines, you may not be able to advertise your building as effectively as you would otherwise. This could impact your ability to draw in customers and deter from the maximization of the building’s functionality.
  •  Is there a “setback” policy?  Zoning codes sometimes include rules regarding how far away from the street a building has to be. These rules may not be present in a sprawling downtown area, but they could be very significant in other areas of town.
  •  Are there any traffic or parking regulations?  Typically, zoning rules will place limits on the number of vehicles that can park on the street and minimums on the amount of parking spaces that a business must provide on its property.
  •  Are there any known easements, or permanent designations of property, which interfere with building on a site?  If the city or county has designated land to a specific purpose, such as electric lines or other infrastructural entities, it could hinder or prevent construction on a site.
  • What are the requirements for stormwater treatment?  Federal, state, and local regulations usually require the creation of detainment ponds that hold back water temporarily to prevent erosion. This can often take up a substantial chunk of land and limit building space.

Site Infrastructure: After determining the plausibility of building on the site, it is critical to ensure that using the property makes sense for your business. A thorough investigation of the site’s infrastructural capabilities is essential to gauging the practicality of building on the site.

  • Is there a suitable access point to the site?  Especially if the prospective building’s functionality involves drawing in customers, it is important to consider the surrounding roads’ locations and traffic. If you’re building a department store, for example, you will probably want an access point stemming from a busy street so you can draw in more customers. Furthermore, your building should be visible and easy to get to from the road. When applicable, you should also consider other nearby travel infrastructure (e.g. interstate highways, public transportation, airports, subways, etc…) in assessing whether or not the site would be capable of drawing in the business you need.
  • Is high speed internet available?  For many 21st century businesses, this is probably the most important infrastructural question. If your business will be dependent on high speed internet, it is essential to have access to fiber optic lines or other means of acquiring high speed access. The absence of this could render the site incompatible with the building’s needs.
  • What is the electrical service, how much does it cost, and is it efficient?  If your business will use substantial amounts of electricity, it would be worthwhile to compare the site’s electrical capabilities and price with other locations you are considering.
  • Is there a sewer available?  If there is not, it will be necessary to build an expensive septic system.
  • What is the sanitary sewer capacity, what is the size of the water line, and how much water flows through the water line per minute?  These issues have huge implications on the cost of construction, particularly if they don’t match the needs of the business. Adjusting the capabilities of these functions is a costly endeavor, so should any of these fall short of what a business needs, it could make building on the site much more expensive and potentially impractical. 
  • In the event of a fire or medical emergency, what would the response time for emergency services be?  This is important for safety, and it can also affect insurance costs.  

Site Permitting: Before you can build on the site, you’ll need to obtain permits from the site’s city and/or county (and, on less frequent occasions, from the site’s district as well). Acquiring these can take up to 12 months or longer at times, so it is important to begin your efforts to attain them early in the process and ensure that you have accounted for this as you schedule the timeframe for the project. Also, you should be prepared to pay permitting fees. These are some of the most common types of permits:

  • Site Plan Permit
  • Water and Sewer Permit(s)
  • Stormwater Permit(s)

Impact Fees: Sometimes, city and county governments charge substantial fees for connecting to services. Some of the most common impact fees are for water, sewers, stormwater treatment, and roads. Check with the site’s local government to obtain this information.

Conceptual Site Design: In light of all of this information and what you need from this building to maximize your business’s efficiency, you can use the following questions to begin plotting what the property will look like.

  • Where are the building’s boundaries?
  • What area on the site is non-buildable? 
  • Where and how large will your parking lot be?
  • Where will the access point(s) be?
  •  Where and how large will your sign(s) be?

Other Important Issues: Below are some issues that we, as contractors, don’t have expertise in, but are important to account for nonetheless:

  • Bank Requirements– Consult with your bank to determine the steps you will have to take to finance the building.
  • Title Work- Hire a lawyer to ensure that the property is free of liens and encumbrances.

Please note that this is not necessarily a comprehensive list. Rather, it is a starting point, focusing on the basics of site selection. For more information, feel free to contact us at tbrown@brownwegher.com.