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The Impact of Federal Regulations on Land Development

By Matt Faris, PE, Project Manager, Koontz-Bryant, P.C.

Many factors control the development and re-development of land in the United States. Of course location, market size, property costs and property terrain are factors that affect the usefulness of any parcel of land. Once these factors are assessed, a project must address regulations that are promulgated by local, state and federal agencies. Local governments and quasi-government agencies (e.g., Home Owners Associations, etc.) impose zoning regulations and development standards. The state primarily develops standards for the health and safety of all its citizens, individual and commercial. The Federal Government issues rules and guidelines that affect impacts to the land as an entire country.

In many cases, federal rules are required to be monitored and implemented by state authorities. In turn, many state and federal regulations are monitored and enforced by local governments. It’s easy to see why a local government can be overwhelmed by enforcing regulations that have been created by state and/or federal agencies.

One federal agency that has a great impact on development is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A partial list of items that are considered when property is developed or re-developed includes:

  • Wetlands – Wetlands must be delineated, field located and confirmed in order to prove that a project either does not impacted a wetland within the EPA’s jurisdiction, or that the proper permit is secured prior to disturbance within that area.
  • Endangered Species – The presence of a threatened or endangered species can affect what a developer can do. For example, there is a concern that an endangered species, the Long Eared Bat, is being subjected to a virus that is harmful to the bat’s existence. Final Rules were just published on January 16, 2016 that dictate when and where land can be cleared so as to not impact the breeding of these bats. This can delay or even prevent the development of land in certain areas.
  • Erosion and Sediment Control – Erosion and Sediment Control has been a concern for many years. Minimum standards have been developed and modified for years. The current version (third edition) of the standards was published in 1992.
  • Storm Water Quality and Quantity – The EPA develops federal standards for storm water, and the states implement the programs. Virginia’s first manual for handling storm water was developed in 1999. A second was published in 2013. These standards are in place to control the pollutants that are released from a developed site. Recent changes have made compliance with the requirements more difficult to achieve.
  • Rivers and Streams - Existing waterways are protected by imposing limitations to any modification to a waterway that is under federal jurisdiction. These limitations protect the biological function of the waterway and the stabilization of the existing beds and embankments.
  • Wastewater Treatment and Transportation – Federal standards are in place to insure the appropriate treatment of wastewater, both for the safety of the citizens and for protection of the environment. Treated wastewater is returned to the natural environment, and the protection of that returned water is essential to maintaining a safe and clean water supply.
  • Drinking Water Treatment and Transportation – Standards are also in place to insure appropriate systems are in place to provide healthy drinking water to the public for human and industrial use. Contamination, from naturally occurring disease bearing bacteria to intentionally placed disease borne organisms, can cause health and safety concerns for entire populations within a system.

These are just some of the areas to be considered by one federal agency when there is a development or re-development of a property. There are more federal agencies - including Transportation (highways) and Justice (Americans with Disabilities Act) - that have impacts on today’s development.

Understanding the myriad regulations from all the different agencies that impact the final design can be overwhelming. With over 25 years working on successful development projects, Koontz-Bryant can help navigate through the piles of regulations. We know what must take place to comply with regulations and get approvals from local, state and federal agencies while making sure the final design is logical, buildable and beneficial to the developer. For more information contact Matt Faris at 804-200-1935 or via email.