Get Familiar With Construction Entitlements

Construction entitlement is a critical stage for every development project. Before crews can put shovels in the ground, the project team must get permission to build in the first place. Developers and builders work closely with local municipalities to ensure their project plans fall within the city’s parameters for real estate development.

The entitlement process is so vast that it’s hard to anticipate which components of a project will require approval. Here’s what to expect from construction entitlement and how to navigate the process with as few hiccups as possible.

What Is Construction Entitlement?

Construction entitlement is the process of gaining approval for a development project. Before contractors can start building a development, the owner must complete the construction entitlement process to ensure it meets the local municipality’s requirements. 

Construction entitlement means the municipality, planning commission, and other relevant parties have given a developer permission to use the land for their intended purposes.

The entitlement process varies depending on the project and local regulations. For example, some municipalities have more stringent rules about real estate development, which can increase the cost and timeline of the entitlement process. The size and scope of a development can also influence construction entitlement, especially if the design calls for additional waivers, variances, and exceptions.

When to Pursue the Entitlement Process

Construction entitlement is necessary whenever a developer plans to alter a piece of land. For example, the site plan might involve ground-up construction on an empty lot or the redevelopment of an existing property. 

Project teams might even have to entitle the land for something as simple as new landscaping. In all these cases, the developer or builder must get their project plans approved by the local jurisdiction.

In addition to changing a property’s appearance, developers and builders must undergo the entitlement process anytime they want to use the land for a different purpose. For example, a developer might propose demolishing a former industrial site so it can build a single-family neighborhood. Another developer might pursue adaptive reuse projects, such as converting an old mill into an apartment building. 

Any changes to a property’s use must get all the necessary approvals.

Types of Permits and Approvals

“Construction entitlement” is a broad term that encompasses many different permits and approval types. The number of permits and approvals a developer will have to apply for will depend on their project and the local municipality’s rules on residential land development. 

Here are some of the most common permits and approvals one might encounter during the entitlement process:

  • Site plan: Nearly all project teams have to get their site plans reviewed by local planning commissions. A site plan is a visual representation of how a development will look. These drawings include building layouts, utilities, landscaping, and other infrastructure. Commission members must ensure all these features comply with the city’s building rules and regulations.
  • Zoning: A zoning ordinance dictates how developers can use a piece of land. The developer must ensure that their project plan meets the site’s zoning requirements. A project team looking to build a residential development might submit a rezoning request if their chosen site is approved for commercial use only. However, a developer might not have to rezone the property entirely. Applying for a zoning variance may allow them to deviate from certain specifications like a building’s size or building setback.
  • Utilities: Developers and builders must ensure the site is adequately equipped with access to electricity, gas, water, and sewer management. The project team will work directly with the local utility companies to assess whether these utilities are already present on the site. The team will have to apply for a utility permit if they’re not. This might involve extending utility lines off-site so the new development can get hooked up to the local resources.

Tips for a smooth entitlement process

Construction entitlement is known for being a long, tedious process. In addition, unexpected challenges often pop up along the way, which can incur extra costs and delay the start of construction. 

While many factors are beyond developers’ control, planning ahead can ensure the completion of the entitlement process and allow the development to begin.

These tips can help as a developer heads into the construction entitlement process:

  • Build entitlement into the project timeline: It’s hard to say how long it will take to entitle a development project. Entitlement varies from one development to the next, so there’s no universal length of time to set aside for the process. Construction entitlement can last anywhere from three to 12 months, depending on the project’s scope and the municipality’s regulations. Developers should leave plenty of room for entitlement so they can break ground on time.
  • Research local building requirements: Before starting the entitlement process, developers should anticipate which components of their development project will require additional permits, waivers, and variances. They can save time by determining which permits and approvals were necessary for similar projects. This will help the team avoid any surprises like delays and expenses that weren’t part of the original project plan.

Pursue the Entitlement Process with Confidence

Construction entitlement doesn’t have to be as daunting as it sounds. A solid team of experts, development consultants like the team at Sandbox, and project managers will help developers win approval with minimal changes to their project plans. The more projects an owner develops, the more straightforward entitlements will get.