November 19, 2015

Site Investigation

The exploration into everything you ever wanted to know and a little bit more about a property is also called a site investigation, typically resulting in a Site Investigation Report. The property (aka parcel) can be vacant land or it can be improved and ready for repurposing. The purpose of the site investigation is to determine suitability for development by understanding what zoning designation the parcel is currently in or the feasibility of changing that zoning into a different use type. When looking at a lease or purchase parcel for development, there are a lot of moving parts that have to be considered or a potential buyer can spend a great deal of time and money for a parcel that ends up not being suitable for an intended use.

The best place to start is the beginning where cities and counties adopt a General Plan. Regardless of the jurisdiction, every 25 to 30 years on average a review is performed on the General Plan which is a map of use designation based on property locale, paths of growth and zone designations within certain areas. Land will most usually start as rural and evolve into a different designation as growth and population reach it and will, over time, change from suburban to urban designation if it is in the path of growth for a city.

This General Plan is important because, what most don’t understand, if a multi-family project is going in next door to you then you can go down to the Planning Commission meeting and argue all you want, but if the designation is MF then usually the battle is over because the land is zoned for that purpose. The time to argue would have been when the General Plan was being adopted.

Here is the kicker. Even if the designation was SFR (Single Family Residential), zoning can be changed to MF (Multi-family) or a Conditional Use Permit can be adopted to allow for multi-family use depending on the design and intentions of the planning staff or the City Council (in a municipality).

If zoning and traversing the jurisdictional landscape were not hard enough, let’s throw in utilities, easements, Right of Way, engineering compatibility and code adherence. What about the ability to place a sign or have a two-story building in a Specific Plan area. We have not even discussed Specific Plan versus General Plan. Just think of it as a plan within a plan and most major municipalities have them where some aspect of the area is protected or in proximity to landmarks or airports.

Let’s put the icing on the cake. The development of any particular parcel is going to cost money, but how much? Miss a traffic impact study and you could be looking at significant cost that you previously did not anticipate. Perhaps the city will make you put in a traffic light or has an active population that does not want your business close to a residential property line. Your industrial building could be at risk if you are not aware of code or plan issues that may impact your intended use.

Herein lies the value of a Site Investigation and subsequent report. Understanding the parcel before expending resources will help you mitigate cost and risk. Learn more.