Site Investigation Reports Eliminate Surprises in Project Planning

A properly prepared site investigation report takes a lot of the guesswork out of developing a piece of land. While they are not required, Woolpert takes pride in delivering comprehensive SIRs to clients to help them avoid roadblocks and costly surprises in the future.

Good SIRs can be hundreds of pages long and provide answers to virtually every potential question regarding the parcel of land for new construction. Those questions revolve around concerns that range from infrastructure capacities and requirements for utilities and transportation to zoning restrictions and permitting fees. While investors require a minimum level of due diligence to determine if the parcel makes sense for their project, a well-detailed SIR serves as a comprehensive handbook to help them get from where they are to where they want to be.

Time, Money and No Surprises
Over the years, Woolpert has developed a thorough checklist for evaluating land parcels to determine if they’re suitable for construction projects. The checklist is a powerful tool that enables us to focus on each client’s goal, while knowing where to save time and money and how to avoid surprises down the road. A comprehensive SIR should not only provide answers but should also identify potential unknowns and pitfalls. These could include a change in local leadership that can impact the political climate and lead to policy changes in a community, for example.

SIRs can reveal restrictions and obligations tied to a property that are not readily apparent. For example, a county or municipality may require a developer to include road improvements or a traffic signal, or there may be plans to add lanes to a roadway that could impact accessibility to the property. Such questions can only be answered by reviewing records and
having conversations with local governing officials.

Searching Property Records
It’s important to do a deep records search on the property to determine what activities occurred on that property in the past. What utilities are in place and what are their capacities? Is the property zoned appropriately for the proposed project? Does the site have fuel storage tanks buried from previous farming or fueling station activities? Are there protected wetlands or a critical aquafer nearby that would restrict installing storage tanks? County property records contain layers of useful information to answer these and many other questions.

Other unknowns may require an environmental study. If the property contains a wooded area, there may be an eagle’s nest, or the trees may shelter a colony of protected brown bats. An environmental investigation may not only reveal endangered species on the property, which could lead to hefty fines if ignored, but also any hazardous materials that may require removal and remediation before construction can begin. SIRs may also include results from drilling, which can give you a profile of the types of soil on the property.

Aerial imagery also can go a long way in showing what’s possible with a property, and imagery is often included in SIRs provided by Woolpert. The images not only show property borders, natural areas and structures, they can help determine natural drainage paths and water features. Outlines of proposed buildings and parking lots can be layered onto aerial imagery, illustrating where structures would sit per setbacks and other local zoning requirements.

Path Toward Success
SIRs should provide investors with an outline of what needs to happen to develop a particular property, including costs for permits, impact fees and review fees. But not every SIR is created equal. There must be time to conduct proper research so investors have answers rather than assumptions to avoid nasty surprises in the future. When an experienced firm thoroughly vets a property, the resulting SIR will pave the way to a successful development.

Jesse Blackstock

Jesse Blackstock, PE, is a program director at Woolpert and is based in Florida. He has worked on new construction and renovation projects for several large retailers, leading projects for new and existing clients.