The Importance of a Feasibility Study

When purchasing property to develop or build on, it’s important to know the legal parameters of the property. This also applies to adding on to an existing structure. Some of these are not readily available without a deeper look into the city or county code. This is also known as a code or zoning review. I regularly provide these services at the beginning of each project. Some things to look for when considering a property:
  • Setback Lines: how far back from the property line can you build on the front, rear and sides?
  • Are there limits on impervious surface? What controls are required for the amount of impervious surface you would like to add?
  • Height limits: how high can you build, and how is the height determined? Are there any incentives that allow for extra height (for example, a steeper roof pitch)?
  • Is your property located in any overlay zones that may affect your development, like a Historic zone?
  • Are you in a zone that will require more extensive review or more restrictive setbacks, such as an environmentally critical zone or shoreline? Is there a wetland on your property, or a bald eagle’s nest nearby?
  • Can you include a guest house or accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on your property? With the call for greater density and more options for smaller and affordable housing, cities are continually updating their codes to keep pace with the public sentiment. An ADU or guest area can provide flexibility and income generation through rental, if the jurisdiction allows.
  • Are there restrictions on the size or style of building? For example, some home owners associations require minimum areas (to maintain values in a neighborhood), certain materials, or layout restrictions (such as whether or not the garage door can face the street).
Don’t make assumptions about what you can do on a property based on what you see on neighboring properties. Zoning restrictions change over time and new development may be subject to more restrictive regulations than existing development, even though they are in the same zone or even next door to each other. Considering these factors along with considering the price and location of a property will eliminate unwelcome surprises down the line.