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5 Essentials to Check Before Redeveloping a Site

By Bomani G. Lee, PE, Senior Project Manager, Koontz-Bryant, P.C.

Under normal circumstances site development is a complicated process. The challenges to land development are exponentially more complicated when the site has already been developed. A developer is best served when the engineer hired performs diligent research to understand the site and the items that need to be resolved.

The quality of information that an engineer starts with will generally dictate how the project will proceed. Below are five critical items that we recommend a developer be aware of when having an engineer design a redevelopment site.

1. Survey

In high density environments, having an accurate boundary and topographic information is vital. On multiple occasions we have encountered areas where buildings were constructed over current setback lines or over property lines. If zoning issues need to be addressed or a building is being removed and replaced, a design engineer should know where the property ends. Zoning ordinances may or may not retroactively grandfather items that have become non-compliant due to changes in the zoning. Noncompliant items may require being retrofit to comply with current zoning. Obtaining topographic data is also an important aspect for a site design. An experienced design engineer will understand what a survey does and does not tell you and advise accordingly.

2. Site Inspection

An engineer performing a site inspection is critical to understanding the lay of the land and identifying potential pitfalls and complication before a design is started. We recommend to our clients that an engineer conduct a site inspection before and after a survey is performed. When these investigations are performed, a designer can often identify critical areas that the surveyor should pick up that may be important for the design but unexpected. After a survey is done it is essential that the engineer look at the survey while performing the site inspection to identify potential anomalies that may or may not have been picked up. ALTA and topographic surveys usually identify what is visible on the ground but do not address what is under the ground. An experienced engineer can identify anomalies during a site visit which occasionally point to the possibility of buried or underground utilities.

3. Utility Location

One of the most critical items an engineer should identify and understand is the location of underground utilities. As noted above, manholes, gate valves, and transformers are usually picked up with a survey. These items are also a good indicator that there are utilities in the vicinity of where a project is being re-developed. These however do not mean that they are the only utilities in the area or that they are functional or active utilities. There are a few methods of performing non-destructive testing to identify potential utilities. Depending on the critical nature of the utility and potential for impact or quality of existing systems an engineer may recommend performing additional tests. This may include uncovering the utility to verify the exact location and depth or video surveillance within the line to determine quality of infrastructure and changes in direction or slope.

These methods can be useful for an engineer to identify traditional storm and sanitary sewer conveyance pipes. Although they usually run in a straight line from structure to structure, occasionally they are designed or constructed with built in deflections. An engineer may sometimes be challenged with finding the right place to start in order to determine where to survey and or where to start utility location.

4. Records Review & Research

Records review can and should be integrated into the due diligence for a site. This may include finding old design plans, historical photographs, original surveys, as-built drawings, and record drawings. These can be a great source of information for an engineer but should only be a part of the due diligence. The most important records review can come from interviews an engineer may conduct with past owners, contractors, and operators. Many times paper or computer records may show a utility in one area, but the institutional knowledge indicates that it is in another area. The review of records can help an engineer determine what may have occurred previously. This will also help to narrow the scope of investigation to provide a more clear view into existing conditions of a site.

5. Subsurface /Geotechnical Investigation

This can be performed in a number of different ways and should be tailored to the site based on the type of redevelopment that is being performed. When a site is redeveloped, this generally means that the original soil profile has been changed. This can affect a number of areas. When a site inspection occurs is performed, an experienced engineer may be able to tell whether the development has been filled in or has been cut in. However without a full subsurface investigation, there is a no way to determine the quality of material underneath the current development. In fill areas trash or uncompacted material could have been placed which may cause future settlement problems. A geotechnical investigation, as with all of the items listed above, can provide valuable insight into the property.

Performing thorough due diligence prior and during the design of a project can avoid unforeseen pitfalls into a project. Koontz-Bryant makes sure an experienced engineer performs the appropriate due diligence to achieve the best outcome. For more information on site redevelopment please contact Bomani G. Lee, PE at 804-200-1903 or via email.