10 Rules for Successful Land Development Design

Purchasing property to begin a land development project is an exciting investment and experience. However, the process of land purchasing and development can also be very stressful and hard to manage. There are a number of rules every individual looking to develop land should follow during the process. These 10 rules and more are discussed and explored below.

The 10 Rules of Land Development

The following rules are catered towards all land development projects, and when properly followed will ensure a successful project:

  1. Begin your project by addressing engineering concerns
  2. Properly evaluate your land and what it will cost to develop
  3. Develop a plan to use your space wisely
  4. Hire proper talent to assume certain roles
  5. Develop a hierarchy of importance for certain aspects of the project
  6. Always keep access top of mind
  7. Remember the topographic features of your property
  8. Design with your end destination in mind
  9. Utilize creativity to solve challenges
  10.  Be flexible and know the market

Now that you are familiar with the ten rules let’s explore each in more detail.

Rule One: Addressing Engineering Concerns

Nothing can set back a land development project more than engineering concerns such as water, sewer, electric, and gas lines. Therefore, it is important to start your project by developing an engineering plan to account for these features. Developing this plan as you progress through your design will only lead to frustration and potentially a loss of significant funds. Make sure to address the engineering concerns of your property from the start. It is highly recommended to engage qualified civil and MEP engineers early in the project.

Rule Two: Evaluate Your Land

When looking for land for sale it is important to consider not only the engineering costs and concerns previously mentioned in rule one, but also zoning restrictions, setbacks, easements, land use restrictions, and the future development plans of the surrounding area.  All of these factors can cause significant delays and problems to arise throughout a land development project. Understanding these factors before beginning development is crucial. These types of restrictions may make it impossible to develop the land in the highest and best use. This could lead to development of a less profitable building or site, or make development infeasible.

Earthworks, Land Excavation

Rule Three: Use Your Space Wisely

On most land development projects a good deal of space is wasted due to poor land management and design. Items like intersections, parking space, storm water drainage systems, and building setbacks commonly lead to wasted space. Placing adequate time into the design of these elements or similar elements that typically occupy unnecessary space will allow you to develop the land more efficiently.

Rule Four: Hire A Strong Team

No one is an expert in every facet of land development. It takes a strong team to make a successful project. When you decide to hire additional team members for aspects of the design and development it is important to match the talent with their abilities. Make sure each of these individuals know their responsibilities and are capable of producing quality results. Look for professionals that have experience which aligns closely with your project. Hiring people based solely on relationships without vetting their resume can be a costly mistake.

Rule Five: Hierarchy of Importance

For most land development projects there will be many different elements involved. There may be various buildings, amenities, or attractions. When planning your design it’s vital to develop and implement a hierarchy of importance. Which elements of your design are the most important and should be focused on first? Second? As an example, when developing an office building the distance from major roadways may be important for limiting road noise within the building. Positioning of the structured parking garage may be important for ensuring tenants and visitors can easily access the building during rush hour. For industrial distribution buildings the ingress and egress of trucks for shipping and receiving may dictate the position and orientation of the building.

Rule Six: Always Keep Access Top of Mind

No matter what type of land development you’re planning access will be key. Office tenants and visitors need to be able to locate the building and park. Industrial parks need space for staff parking while also accommodating large truck traffic. Retail centers must be visible and easily accessible to consumers or they may go elsewhere. As you design your project it’s important to always keep access top of mind. It will matter to the users of your development so it should matter to you.

Parking lot entrance

Rule Seven: Understand the Topographic Features

The topographic features of a property include hills, slopes, valleys, water sources such as rivers or lakes, existing structures, and vegetation. These topography of a property can cause significant challenges when implementing a development design. Understanding these features and how to combat them will be important in the process of a successful project. Some topographic features can simply be removed but it will come at a cost. Clearing of vegetation and grading of elevation changes will be an expense you’ll need to budget for. Some features may be more permanent such as rivers or lakes. You will need to design around these sorts of permanent features. Ideally you can find ways to bring them into the design and make it feel less like a burden and more of an amenity.

Rule Eight: End Destination

Over the course of a land development project it can be easy to lose sight of the end destination. Begin with a strong idea and make sure to continually work toward making it a reality. Take time in the beginning to focus on the “why” and not just the ‘how’ of certain aspects of your design. This will help to stay focused on the overall purpose for the development.

Rule Nine: Creative Solutions

Every land development project will encounter problems or obstacles to tackle. Thinking creatively and out of the box is often the best way to solve these problems. The simple solution may be faster, but is not always the most effective. This is another reason that hiring a strong team is so important. Your team should have experience coming up with creative solutions. In times of trouble you will need to rely on the team to brainstorm solutions and execute on the vision.

Rule Ten: Know The Market & Be Flexible

Lastly, it is important to know your local real estate market. With land development the risk always exists that you’ll invest more money than you can recoup in a reasonable timeframe. Don’t take on a project that you don’t understand well or for which you can’t hire a qualified team to handle. It’s important to stay flexible and keep an open mind when considering the best ways to develop a property. But always keep the market in mind and design something that will work for your end users in the area.

Good Luck!

Starting a land development project is a big step. It can be an exciting yet stressful and tumultuous process. However, if you are able to follow the ten rules above it will go a long way toward a successful project. Remember to stay focused, take your time while planning, and hire appropriate talent to help out. Good luck, and enjoy the process! For more tips check out our guide to commercial development.

Chase McAteer Headshot

Chase McAteer is a commercial agent at Oxford Partners specializing in tenant and buyer representation for office and industrial users. Contact him at [email protected] with comments and questions.

(713) 575-2703