A strategic and knowledgeable approach to securing land entitlements streamlines the involved processes and augments returns-on-investment in commercial real estate development.
Land entitlements are the cornerstone of land development. Yet, a deep well of patience is necessary to unravel the bureaucratic complexities and multifarious requirements.
George Garcia, the Founder and President of real estate development and redevelopment services company G.C. Garcia, Inc. located in Las Vegas, guides real estate investors, site owners and developers as they navigate such enterprises. For this expertise, Garcia and his team have earned the moniker, “Red Tape Sherpas.”
“Cutting through the red tape involved in land development, zoning and entitlements is nothing short of a complex series of carefully managed activities,” says Garcia.
Garcia has nearly 30 years in government planning, land planning and real estate development. Prior to founding his company, he served as Planning Director for the City of Henderson, Nev. and Assistant Planning Director in Overland Park, Kan.
In Garcia’s leadership role at G.C. Garcia, Inc., he guides developers through the process of dealing with local governments, planning boards and other public entities. Before the first shovel breaks ground, he and his team strive to bring clarity to any land planning or zoning situation.
For land owners and those seeking new property for future building and development, detailed research is a fundamental precursor in evaluating a project’s potential. A vetting and planning process is essential.
From site evaluation to coordinating with government entities, leaving no stone unturned is paramount for real estate entrepreneurs. The procedures give a whole new meaning to doing one’s homework.
Garcia advises that a systematic approach to site exploration and procedural planning are prerequisites for real estate investments. “Government and neighborhood relations, entitlements, due diligence, development coordination, permitting, and business licensing are key elements,” he says.
Coordination will be needed with local and state governments, utility companies, neighbors, and engineers. In many cases, technical studies, redevelopment financial reviews and application submittals are necessary.
Common Land Entitlements
Formulating project parameters is the first step. You’ll want to understand the five common land entitlements, which are legal agreements between you and government municipalities that allow for land developments.
1. Amending. The highest level of entitlement requires amending the city’s comprehensive plan, which is the policy that guides city development. “Amending is the most legally and politically difficult of entitlements,” Garcia says. “It’s necessary if you want to change the current use-plans for a piece of land.”
For example, a developer might want to develop land for commercial, industrial or multi-family use, but the city’s plan has slated the property for residential-use at a certain developmental density. To achieve his goal, the developer would have to amend the city’s plan.
2. Rezoning. If the land is not zoned for your intended use, there is no escaping the rezoning process. “This can be complicated,” Garcia says. “Sometimes, rezoning is not possible, but it can be achieved in most cases with proper management and an action plan.”
Zoning or entitlement of land varies depending upon location. For example, a field on the edge of development is handled differently than an infill property with surrounding development.
3. Zoning variances. For projects that don’t fit the city’s requirements for size, scale, height, or mass of building, you will need a variance to deviate from the standards.
“There are techniques provided within zoning code, affording the ability to seek waivers and modifications to the standards,” Garcia says. “The most restrictive is a variance.”
A well-structured plan, under statues and codes, is the foundation for seeking to vary from the standard requirements.
4. Permits. A special-use permit needs a discretionary review and approval of the government staff and neighbors to evaluate characteristics of a project. Such factors might include traffic impact, the project’s functionality, or aesthetic implications.
A conditional-use permit is one that can be categorized, administratively, in a checkbox fashion. Whether a permit is special-use or conditional-use, can vary depending on the district.
5. Utility and road approvals. Utilities may not be at your site or be appropriate for your usage. Adequate roadways may not exist to connect your property.
For these challenges, you’ll have to attempt to amend the city’s plan to facilitate utilities or create roadways. If you obtain these changes, the higher intensity of zoning will allow you to proceed.
With an understanding of the types of entitlements that could be required, the next phase of land development or redevelopment involves due diligence to gain indispensable, preliminary insight that could make or break the ability to seek and secure any necessary entitlements.
Read Part 2 of “Mastering Entitlements” to learn about due diligence and garnering entitlements, as published on G.C. Garcia, Inc.’s BLOG HERE.
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