October 27, 2010
Due Diligence Process for Urban SitesBy: Stuart Toraason
Every land development project requires due diligence. Working in urban areas requires specialized due diligence. We have completed dozens of due diligence projects for urban sites. Other sites have offered tremendous learning opportunities. What are some things that you should watch out for?
- Zoning – Zoning constraints are one of the biggest. Many urban sites are located in old industrial or business districts not zoned for modern residential and commercial uses. It is important to understand the zoning constraints and more importantly the local entitlement processes and neighborhood attitudes.
- Infrastructure – On more than one occasion an early water main flow test has indicated a need for offsite improvements. In addition, many sites already have onsite sewer and storm infrastructure which will either be re-used or removed. If it is to be re-used the condition and capacity need to be checked.
- Contamination – Soil contamination is common on urban sites. Common contaminants include arsenic, lead, petroleum and coal dust all of which require special removal or remediation. Even sites with clean Phase I ESAs often contain hidden contaminations. If you think extra precautions are warranted don’t hesitate to do additional testing.
- Wetlands – Believe it or not many urban sites do hold pocket wetlands or stream bodies. Most urban projects require an impact to these resources so the exact size, location and permitting requirements need to be understood up-front.
- Soils – We have encountered more than one site containing elevated groundwater or large amounts of fill, debris and even garbage. The history of a site may indicate prior use as a dump or landfill or it may be an area that was filled in over time or for other nearby projects. These activities are common within urban districts. Proper investigation of the soil and site history will lead to an understanding of specialized foundation and soil removal or replacement requirements.
- Historic Constraints – Is your site in a designated historic district or does it contain historic structures? If so, this could be a positive or a negative for your project depending on when you discover the historic nature.
- Building Constraints – The majority of our urban projects involve some existing building renovation. Will the finished floor elevations need to be altered to meet the site needs? Are there handicap access issues? Understanding how the existing structure will impact costs outside of the direct renovation is crucial.
- Property Ownership, Easements and Rights-of-Way – Many urban sites require assemblages which may involve parcels with unknown ownerships, easements and paper streets. Do you have a complete survey and title commitment? Will easements need to be vacated or planned around? Will rights-of-way need to be abandoned by the municipality? In most urban sites one or all of these constraints exist so it is important to be out in front – tracking property owners and meeting with easement holders and local officials to verify that abandonment is possible.
- Demolition – Have you looked at overhead power lines, utility poles, underground utilities, concrete pads, footers, foundations, pavements, tanks, trees, buildings and other items that will need to be removed from the site? Demolition for urban projects is typically much more extensive than that for green field sites. Many of the removed items can be recycled so understanding quantities and disposal practices can help with budgeting.
Each of the above represents a constraint that has affected one or more of our urban projects. These items can be discovered on the front end or dealt with during construction. If not detected during the initial due diligence period there can be major impacts to cost and schedule.