This article is featured in the most recent edition of the Maryland Construction Network newsletter.
While the nickname the “Free State” arose in Maryland due to its rich tradition of political freedom and religious tolerance, this certainly does not apply to land development in Maryland. Complex rules and regulations establish a daunting and arduous process that must be adhered to for all land development projects. How the process is managed will make a substantial impact on a project’s timeline, budget, and actual implementation. By being proactive and cognizant of common pitfalls, we can plan and facilitate the process, increasing the likelihood of success.
Engage early and with the right people. Prior to purchasing or moving ahead with plans on an existing parcel, it is wise to gain a strong understanding of the process that will be involved; given the particulars of the area, zoning and regulatory requirements, and how desired project goals might be impacted. Tuning in with local experts is a recommended method of navigating this investigative stage. Leaning on the experience of your broker, a local engineering/planning firm, and local county and/or municipal governmental departments can help provide a roadmap of the local process, uncover potential limitations of the proposed property, and anticipate the project’s impact on the local community.
Knowledge is power. Having awareness of the areas where unforeseeable setbacks commonly occur throughout the land development process and learning how to avoid or anticipate can help mitigate loss of valuable financial and time resources. Taking the time to do homework and tapping the expertise of local professionals can identify possible setbacks prior to enacting a LOI (Letter of Intent). Gaining as much prior knowledge about the below components can help assess a project’s overall potential and help paint a realistic timeline and financial picture. It is imperative to have a strong understanding of the property, its surrounding area, and local community prior to project initiation.
- Become familiar with the zoning ordinances
– Is the property within its zoning rights or does it need a special exception or variance?
– What is the stance on waivers or variances per the county or municipality?
– What kind of buffering or building offsets are required?
- Utilities and access
– Are there existing utilities?
– APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) is there sufficient capacity if there are utilities?
– Is there existing road access and what type of improvements will be required to bring the access to current standards?
– What entity owns the road SHA, County, Town, etc.?
– What traffic impact will be felt as a result of the projected development?
- Know the local culture and demographics and restrictions or perceived neighboring restrictions. While legal or zoning regulations may not directly impact the project, community backlash can potentially delay a project and/or jeopardize the budget as a result of legal fees. Don’t be tone deaf to neighboring owners!
– Take time to learn your neighboring audience. What developments will be well received? What might present resistance? Do neighboring owners have the means to legally fight the project and if so, what implications might that have on the project?
– Be mindful of sensitive and unspoken restrictions such as, Section 8 housing and long-standing rural and/or wooded areas, even if located within the development envelope.
- Understand the environmental impact
– Will reforestation be required?
– What impact might there be to wetlands?
– Is the property in a floodplain?
– Are there impacts that will require special MDE permits?
All these items above can impact the amount of “developable land” and/or the project cost.
Have a realistic and well-defined proforma and use it as a tool in the process. Having a sound financial base and clearly defined goals is a best practice for any business venture. Outlining such and sharing with trusted advisors (broker, design team, attorneys, etc.) helps fine-tune realistic expectations. After engaging with a design team familiar with the proposed project area, reviewing design and construction assumptions impacting the project proforma with the team ensures all members are on the same page as the design progresses. Collaborating with the design team helps to determine realistic expectations, adjust the proforma and/or project goals accordingly, and helps better define overall project understanding. Owners should price projects such that they factor in costs noted by the design team and other trusted advisors to address potential impacts related to environmental issues, legal complexities, community aversion, etc.
Understand and respect the timeline. Development projects take time and require patience. Depending on the jurisdiction, it can take anywhere from nine months to a year, at minimum, to go from the initial design stage to having approved permits in-hand. When developing the proforma, a realistic consideration of the project timeline should be factored in accordingly. Time should also be allotted for a planning charrette with professionals to help define project milestones and create a detailed roadmap of the project’s overall goals and expenditures.
Unexpected delays in the timeline can still occur through bureaucratic interpretations and perceived political impact. It is prudent to anticipate these roadblocks, as they are an inevitable part of the process. Expect the unforeseen but don’t be discouraged by it! With the guidance of knowledgeable local engineering/planning expertise, a better understanding of problem areas in the process can be gained to help assess the success of a potential project.