10 Rules for Successful Land Development Design

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


A Quick Guide to Commercial Land & Site Development

Developing an undeveloped area of land and transforming it into a building site for a new project is always a huge undertaking. With such a massive variety of factors involved in deciding how to go ahead, this article will look at some important things to consider for commercial land & site development.


First off, there are a host of different reasons for developing land. Do you want to use it to create a new residential area? That will involve plenty of consideration as to the suitability of the site for people to live. Perhaps you are looking to construct a shopping mall, office building or a warehouse for your business. Every type of development comes with its own complications, and there will be different things to consider each time.


Coming up with a site plan

Once you have identified the intended purpose of your land, one of the best places to start is by drawing up a site plan that depicts the land after you have finished developing it. 

You will need to accurately represent the properties and improvements of the surrounding areas:

  • Are there any access roads to the area? All surrounding roads should be highlighted in the site plan.
  • What is the general landscape like? If it is a wooded area with plenty of trees, ensure that this is noticeable in the site plan. Also be sure to take note of any surrounding water, since this will be important when considering flood risk, drainage, and detention.
  • Label the site plan appropriately, including road names and a compass point to show which way the site faces. If you are proposing different buildings, make sure you label these clearly so that people you work with are clear about the intended purpose of the new development.

Here is an example of a site plan:

Example Site Plan



If you are developing a commercial site, it is also necessary to get a strong idea of the surrounding infrastructure. Where do water and gas get supplied? How is sewage dealt with? If the commercial contractors and engineers have a better understanding of the basic infrastructure and resource supplies, they are more likely to complete the job on time and within the expected budget.


When reviewed, site plans are generally scrutinized using the following criteria:

  •  Floodplain management. Are there any floodplain areas nearby? Commercial areas expel large amounts of water.
  • Subdivision compliance. This means that your development must follow the basic rules and regulations. Hiring a general contractor to help you manage this process is going to make it more manageable.
  • Traffic management. It is important to note how traffic is going to flow towards and away from your proposed site. Also, consider parking and how many spaces will be needed in your development.
  • General engineering design. Before submitting any applications, it makes sense to get a solid idea of other engineering works you will need such as street lighting, sidewalks, sewer covers etc. These types of items are typically referred to as the “sitework” required.

Other things to consider when developing land

 Aside from the need to come up with a detailed site plan, there are some other factors to think about before you begin drawing up your ideas.


What is the land-to-building ratio? This is not such an important factor in residential developments, but more so for commercial ones. When planning your property, you do not want land to be wasted. You can calculate your land-to-building ratio by dividing the square footage of the total land parcel by the square footage of the building. Commercial investors may want to pay particular attention to this in order to maximize their investment opportunity.


Take an example:

200,000 square feet of land divided by 60,000 square feet of building means that this particular building has a ratio of 3.33:1. This is on the higher end of the average, but would not be a cause for concern over wasted land if you were applying to build a shopping mall, for example.

  • Consider detention space. Will your site be located somewhere with frequent storms? You will likely need a solution to account for the chance of excessive stormwater. Surface ponds are a cheaper option, but underground detention vaults are a very effective solution for containing wastewater upon heavy rainfalls. You will need to consult with local city municipal or county requirements with regard to detention.
  • Will you be affected by trees? Understand that your site may be affected if you are building close to any open spaces, or areas rich with trees and vegetation. In all likelihood, trees will require replacing. If that is not possible you will need to account for the costs of clearing and grading the land.


This has been a very quick guide to some of the basics to consider when planning to develop a new site. Environmental factors are top of the list, with flooding and draining always making up a big consideration. Next come human factors – how can you develop this site for maximum usability? Will you build something close to large populations of people for easy access, or somewhere more remote where costs could be lower?

Check out another recent post for 10 Rules to Successful land development and design.

Jack Vale is a writer for Fed Steel, a major steel pipe distributor.