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Seeing the Sites Through the Eyes of an Engineer

As the economy crawls out of recession, manufacturers, retailers, and other industry organizations need to scrutinize their site selection skills.

2011 Directory
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Another key preliminary judgment involving the nature of the business considers the size of the facility and the number of local jobs it will create. The economic value of a 750,000-square-foot manufacturing plant to a town or city may make it possible to overcome any preliminary deal-breakers involving zoning and infrastructure with concessions made by the jurisdiction.

If a prospective site survives the preliminary assessment, each of the three primary go/no-go issues must undergo closer scrutiny to enable an owner to assemble a reasonable budget request from senior executives or a board of directors.

The temptation to forge ahead with acquisition and permitting is difficult to resist. Senior executives may even be hurrying things along. Time and again, however, projects have stopped when the original budget request turns out to be too small and a second request is unable to be authorized. So it is important to get the development budget right the first time around by way of an adequate assessment of zoning and infrastructure issues related to each site under consideration.

Speeding Site Selection and Entitlements
In sum, a knowledgeable advocate can assess risks connected to individual sites and present those risks to an owner in a way that makes it possible to make an informed go/no-go business decision. The challenge is to assemble appropriate information to enable an intelligent comparison of several sites in a reasonable amount of time. Issues to consider include the cost and time required to entitle and develop the site.

If the decision is to go and timely approvals are paramount, it may be possible to speed the process by sequencing applications for permits properly, determining when to risk permit costs to move other tasks forward, and carrying out some tasks concurrently.

Sufficient up-front work can speed the process of selecting and entitling a single site for a manufacturing plant as well as a multi-store retail rollout. As consumer spending begins to rise, retailers will begin to announce significant new development campaigns.

A consulting engineering firm with local offices across the country can drive such a process by prioritizing lists of prospective sites for each market on the expansion list. The consultant can assess each site in terms of zoning, building codes, and infrastructure needs and rank each according to the risks and rewards it will bring to the entitlement process.

All Real Estate Is Local
As the saying goes, all real estate, like all politics, is local. County and city building departments regulate the entitlement process for construction projects, and they all do it differently. For example, Maryland localities are concerned about storm water runoff because it necessitates a multistate effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. California cities and counties have special seismic requirements that projects must satisfy during entitling. Jurisdictions up and down the Mississippi have regulations related to building in flood plains.

Jurisdictions must also provide safe and sufficient roads, power, and water for residents and businesses alike. As a result, entitling a site on one side of town may take less time than entitling a site on the other side of town; even projects within the same jurisdiction can vary due to unique area constraints and zoning districts.

Individuals and businesses take intense local interest in the construction projects being planned for their communities. In the end, entitling a project swiftly in a particular jurisdiction may not be possible. In the event that there are several hurdles, it's important for a developer to know that ahead of time. An experienced consulting engineer with a detailed knowledge of local zoning, building codes, and infrastructure issues will know. Likewise, if it is possible to push the envelope on an entitlement schedule, an experienced consulting engineer will know how to make it happen.

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