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VOICES FROM THE INDUSTRY: Projects require much work before ground is ever broken

May 26, 2008

Encouraging new development-residential and commercial-is such a high priority in many communities these days that one would think both the private and public sectors would rush to break ground before the impulse passes.

But as ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso often responds each Saturday during the season to the observations of others, "Not so fast my friend."

Before construction actually starts, all parties involved in a proposed project, if it is to be successful, must reach consensus on a wide range of issues. And that requires considerable in-depth discussion, coordination and negotiation about who will be responsible for all aspects of infrastructure that make a project feasible.

Both the developer and government agencies related to the project must reach accord on how each stage proceeds, who does the work and who bears the financial burden. The answers to such questions are not always so clear cut.

A matter of access

First, there is the matter of access to the site in question-how you get into and out of the property. Here we are talking about the effects of the project on traffic in adjacent areas. Will traffic flows and right-ofways need to be changed moderately, drastically or not at all? Presumably, new streets and sidewalks will need to be installed. Who will pay for them?

Will curbs be required to facilitate onstreet parking? Will alleys be needed throughout the development? What about installation of bicycle lanes? Who pays for such accommodations? All these are complex matters that require serious study.

Zoning discussions

Second, what zoning issues must be taken into consideration? Will existing zoning suffice or will the area need to be rezoned? Will the project require variances from existing zoning or special exceptions written into new zoning requirements?

Will special landscaping covenants be required for occupants of the properties?

Water issues

Third, the costs and procedures to install new mains bringing water into the project need careful analysis. Or in the case of old water mains that already exist, who will repair them and assure they are up to standard? Where will fire hydrants be located, as well as water service laterals and meters? Will the affected water utility be obligated to absorb all of these costs?

Fourth, reversing the flow to get used and contaminated water out of the area can be even more troublesome and expensive. New sewer mains and laterals surely will be required-and probably lift stations where simple gravity will not facilitate smooth flow of sewage water to a lift station. Who will bear the costs of the required sewage systems? How will they affect the fees that consumers will pay for the use of these services?

Fifth, on related point, how will the storm sewer system be configured to prevent backups and flooding in exceptional weather conditions? Will a special storm water quality treatment unit be required?

Environmental concerns

Finally, what special environmental issues will need to be addressed? Is any of the soil on the proposed site contaminated and required to be hauled away-as was the case with the new Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis? Will a contaminated pond need to be cleaned up?

Will the project disturb some previously unknown bird sanctuary that will require special disposition before construction can proceed? I recall that concern about a colony of bats posed considerable delay in construction of the United Airlines Maintenance Center back in the 1990s.

Protecting the domain of the Screech Owl, the Baltimore Oriole and the Woodfinch can occasionally be a higher priority than development projects among environmental regulators.

To sum up, a developer obviously needs to study a project's potential very carefully to determine if its long-range benefits outweigh the short-term, up-front investment. Does the long view give promise of eventual profitability?

The public sector needs to analyze the project from a comparable perspective. If a significant up-front investment of hardto-come-by tax money is required for infrastructure improvements, does the project's long-range promise justify the expenditures?

Will the eventual assessed valuation of a project-whether residential or commercial-produce enough tax revenue over time to more than compensate for the short-term liabilities?

And if it is a commercial project, does the promise of good paying jobs at the site offer additional tax revenues that make the project worth pursuing?

How all the parties related to a development reach agreement on their respective roles will be a decisive factor in determining its feasibility. If everyone involved negotiates with enlightened self-interest and a spirit of cooperation, an eventual decision to proceed should be easy.



Green is president and chief operating officer of Cripe Architects + Engineers, with offices in Indianapolis, Carmel and Fort Wayne. Views expressed here are the writer's.
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