potential building site may or may not be buildable.
You may be heading through a vale of tears and sorrows or into one of the most
enjoyable experiences of your life.
land professionals from different regions of the country define
what may be called a "buildable site" differently.
To some professionals, a "buildable
site" means the city, county, state in which the site is located will simply
ALLOW you to build on it. Is it economically feasible to do? A lot of times
it may be allowable by government agencies but just too expensive to develop
use the phrase "buildable site" to
define a piece of land's characteristics. Language like, ``Very buildable, gently
sloping, 1.18 acreage.'' may mean it's pretty to look at, but might be a nightmare
when it comes time to install a septic system.
To a more experienced professional,
site'' would mean the lot is ready to build -- feasibility studies completed,
all utilities available at the site, sometimes even permits for services available.
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Bottom line: Research the property.
Does the site
meet every requirement at every level of government?
research can be a trying experience and you may want assistance from someone who's
familiar with the process to guide you. Ask all the questions a few times, a different
way each time. Government employees are notorious for answering exactly your question
and nothing else. If you ask the wrong question you may get the wrong answer.
Remember: It's not a government employee's job to engineer a solution
to your problem. Their primary role is to hold you responsible for the design
solution you present to them. Don't expect them to do your work!
is no ``guaranteed'' way of determining if a site is ``buildable'' until the governing
jurisdiction says it is. The different governing authorities have many and varying
sets of criteria ranging from issues like minimum lot size to environmental impact.
First things first: Inquire with the county land assessor regarding
legal status. Tell them where the site is located, and they'll provide you with
a plat map of the property and legal description. Check if there's any easements
of any kind recorded on the site.
If you have a difficult time moving forward on your property search, seek the assistance of a reliable Real Estate professional familiar with residential properties. In South King County, I rely on Shelley Propernick because she's not only familiar with our local issues but Shelley has created a consumer-friendly web site! Be sure to look for a professional with great credentials and a content-rich web presence.
Second concern: What is the zoning
of the site?
If it's not zoned for what you
want to build, what will it take for a variance, or to change the zoning? If
it's zoned correctly, find a builder/contractor or survey/land planning company
or realtor to get an idea of what may be some of the issues in order to build
on the site -- too steep, heavily treed, flood plain, seismic zone. There could
be many, many different issues with which to contend, or it could be a very
Third concern: With the address of the property and legal
description in hand, contact a title company and find out if there are any liens against
the deed or if the site is technically or physically encumbered in any way.
If you don't have access both legally and geographically, you can't get building
materials to the site!
Fourth concern: Go to the county or city
and ask them what needs to be done to make the site buildable.
may mean whether the soil will perc, will not fall off a cliff, or will not experience
flooding. Find out if a septic system is allowed! You may be required to tie into
a public sewer system; otherwise, you'll install a septic system. A septic
design specialist will determine whether it will perc. (A percolation test
is a soil test to see how fast water drains through the soil.) If it percs, application
to the county for a septic design approval will determine if the design is appropriate.
After that you will incur the cost of installation per design and county regulations.
Where are the other utility services located? Utility services such as electrical
power, potable water, fire hydrant, and telephone cable are necessary. How much
will it cost to bring them to the site? Do you need alternatives like a water
well or tie into a community water
system? How much will utility hook-ups cost? Is natural gas or television
cable available to the site?
Are any environmental studies required? Are
there any wetlands, creeks, lakes on OR NEAR the property? What is your state's
legal definition of a wetland? How far is the setback for your house from wetlands
or waterways? What possible mitigation might be required? If the site is on or
near a hillside, is it in a seismic hazard or landslide area? How much will the
geotechnical analysis cost to prove that the site is stable? What precautions
are necessary for storm water control?
Fifth concern: Is the site
located in an area which constrains the design/build process in any way?
A city which is concerned about the aesthetic values in a historic neighborhood
will usually require an architectural review committee to judge whether or not
the design preserves the historical integrity of the locality. If these criteria
don't appeal to you, then the site is not buildable.
Similarly, in most developments a set of ``covenants,
conditions, and restrictions'' (CCR) will establish building standards to
which you must adhere. Items such as brick veneer, tile roof, or landscape may
be mandatory for every home. You may not be allowed to construct additional
structures on the property or park recreational vehicles adjacent to your home.
If the CCR's don't appeal to you, then the site is not buildable.
to VERIFY would be:
- legal description and property tax
- zoning designation and requirements of lot size/setbacks
search for legal or technical encumbrances
- potable water availability and
certificate of availability
- sewer availability or approved septic system design
- electrical availability and requirements of public utility
- natural gas
availability and requirements of public utility
- fire protection availability
and requirements of fire marshal
- driveway accessibility and easement to site
- storm water drainage and requirements of local authority
and television cable service requirements
- necessity of a geotechnical analysis
- necessity of a sensitive area review
- covenants, conditions, and restrictions
- CALL DIG SAFELY 888-258-0808 TO PREVENT UNDERGROUND DAMAGE
Some high cost items which may deter site
- LENGTHY WATER LINE
- LENGTHY SEWER LINE
- LENGTHY ELECTRICAL LINE
- FIRETRUCK TURNAROUND
- ASPHALT ACCESS ROAD
- STORMWATER CONTROL
Sixth concern: Ask the
building code enforcement department for a copy of their application
procedure for a building permit. This document will outline the necessary
information required by the agency having jurisdiction over issuance of a building
permit. It will not entirely describe the criteria by which this information will
be judged, but you'll at least obtain their guideline for application.
Most likely, there'll be a myriad of details to consider when compiling the information
required to apply for a permit but that's not the point of obtaining a copy of
these procedures. The point is to understand the issues which you'll need to address
when building on this particular site. For instance, what if there's a building
moratorium due to lack of water availability within the jurisdiction where the
site is located?
Finally: Make your offer to purchase the property
contingent on the site being buildable to your satisfaction. You may be very interested
in the site but need some time to do your research. Don't lose your earnest money
because you've failed to include this contingency with your offer !!!
Above all else, remember most professionals from whom you'll be seeking information
are employed to protect and maintain the public's health, safety and welfare.
Nothing is gained by an adversarial relationship.
These folks are bound by laws, ordinances, and codes which have been enacted
by state, county, and city authorities. Their job is to inform the public and
enforce the law.
As you work to determine whether your site is buildable,
maintain a positive, proactive attitude. It's better to discover the "truth" about a potential site before the land is purchased, but it's no one's fault but
your own if you've purchased the site before you did your homework.