• What You Need to Know When Choosing a New Location

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    Brown, Lindquist, Fenuccio & Raber Architects, Inc.
    Brown Lindquist Fennuccio & Raber Architects, Inc. is a diversified architectural practice located in historic Yarmouthport, Massachusetts.
    Brown, Lindquist, Fenuccio & Raber Architects, Inc.

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    By Kurt Raber

    There’s an old adage that finding the right site for your business is all about location, location, location, but if that’s all a business owner thinks about,  there may be trouble lurking down the road.

    Most business owners begin by doing their due diligence to identify the best general location for their business by plowing through demographic databases, traffic studies and even some elaborate computer modeling for good measure.

    These are all important first steps in finding a location that is best for your business, but once your research narrows your selection down to a particular site, another set of considerations kicks in. At this point it’s time to take off your business hat and put on your Architect hat to consider what issues the potential property and/or building will bring to the table.

    Here are just a few ideas to consider before buying or leasing new space or site:

    What are the site’s opportunities and liabilities?

    Some of the intuitive opportunities or liabilities are the visibility of the site from the street, easy access and ample parking for customers and staff, or lack thereof. If there is an existing building on site, make sure that it is an asset to your business plans for the property.

    Others will need to build new structures in order to achieve their vision; but be aware that it often takes much longer than anticipated to design, permit and build a commercial structure. Owners should also ask themselves if their business will have enough space to grow in the future in this new space or on this property. Not so intuitive are the local

    Zoning regulations which vary from town to town and come with a number of requirements including setbacks (how far back from the property line you can build) and what type of building use is allowed.

    There may also be additional restrictions if the parcel is located in an Historic District or FEMA Flood Zone. Identifying and addressing all of the laws and regulations that apply, or the restrictions on the use of a property or building, will save you headaches later.

    What are the physical characteristics?

    The physical characteristics of the property include the size, shape, topography orientation, landscape features and elevation of the lot. Is there enough “Buildable Area” (after Zoning setbacks, conservation restrictions, uneven terrain, etc.) to make the parcel work?

    A site may seem large enough to start, but when you subtract areas within setbacks from the property line and setbacks from Coastal edges, the buildable area can shrink substantially. The shape of the lot may also cause additional challenges if it is long and narrow, L-shaped, or includes a number of angles which lessen the useable area. Another consideration is topography and elevation of the property.

    Is it relatively flat or are there large variations in the slope of the elevation from one side of the property to another which could lead to increased site construction costs? Sometimes sloping terrain can be an advantage. In a recent project a significant cross-slope allowed the main entrance to be located on the upper level and a walk out lower level at the rear.

    This may be an advantage to your business for deliveries, warehouse, shop space or other back-of-the-house operations. Other businesses need a single story space without the challenges of a multi-story structure.

    What existing structures are on the site?

    Often a business owner will purchase property with a building or buildings already on site with the hopes of renovating or adding on to them to meet its needs.

    Questions that arise in this case include: What is the age of the building(s)? Is it structurally sound? Can it be reused? Should it be reused? Would it be more effective to tear down and replace? Are there advantages to using the current structure which may have a larger “footprint” than is allowable under current Zoning regulations (pre-existing non-conforming condition)? If the building is in a Historic District, will the desired changes be allowed?

    Renovation work will likely require upgrades to make the existing structure fully accessible. This work may include a new ramp, elevator, and accessible parking or restrooms. The cost of this work can add up quickly.

    What sort of Infrastructure does your chosen location have in place?

    A costly assumption that owners or buyers sometimes make is that adequate utilities and capacity are readily available for a new property or building. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

    Even if utilities are readily available they may not be in good working order or provide sufficient supply to meet the business’s needs. So the first question is what utilities are available (sewer/septic, water, electric and gas) and if they are, what if any issues do they have?

    Is the water pressure good? Is sewer service provided by the town or is there a need for an on-site septic system? Is the electrical system adequate? Often new water connection fees for a fire suppression service or electric service back charges are unforeseen and not budgeted.

    The cost of utility services vary tremendously from town to town or even between local water districts. On some recent projects, the new sprinkler service connection fees have cost in excess of $30K on top of the installation costs. Applying for new services and scheduling their installation sometimes takes more time than owner’s can tolerate, so advanced planning is crucial.

    What environmental issues are there?

    The final group of issues and considerations looks at the natural environment within which the property is located. Are there existing site drainage systems for storm and water management? Are there wetlands or protected vegetation? Are there coastal bank issues?

    Are there MEPA (natural heritage) or endangered species issues? How does the sun travel across the property? Is there interest in reducing energy costs with solar panels? Are there other green or renewable energy strategies possible on your new property?

    Pre-Design Services should start before your purchase or sale

    Many of these questions can be asked and perhaps answered before settling on your final choice of a building or property for your business.

    As with any major purchase, proper due diligence is the key to uncovering potential opportunities and pitfalls; and discussions with site engineers, attorneys, architects, realtors, utility company representatives and Town officials from various regulatory and licensing departments is crucial to understanding the pathway to a successful commercial site development.

    Up front analysis can help the seller market their property correctly for maximum value and will help buyers avoid possible headaches down the road.

    Kurt Raber is Vice President/Principal at Brown Lindquist Fenuccio & Raber Architects, Inc. He can be reached at kurtraber@capearchitects.com.

     

    April 05, 2014