What is Land Entitlement? Understanding Entitlement Process


Created on Wednesday, June 01, 2016
Updated on Wednesday, March 21, 2018
by Land Century

Most people purchase land for one purpose: to develop it. Whether that means building a home, shopping center or apartment complex, a large percentage of land buyers search for properties with development in mind. But before you even get started with your project, you’ll need to go through the land entitlement process.

What is Land Entitlement?

Land entitlement is the legal process of obtaining approvals for your development plans. This process can be lengthy, complicated, and at times, expensive. But it’s a vital part of the development phase because it helps determine what can and can’t be done with the property. In other words, entitlement can make or break your project. Simply put, entitlements are a legal agreement between you and the governing municipality to allow for the development of a certain building type. Entitlements will detail the function, density and the setback requirements for your property.

Why is Entitlement Important?

Before a project can commence, you must be granted permission from local regulatory agencies and the community. It is crucial to be prepared for this stage of the development process, as you may be asked many questions from city planners, local residents and government leaders. If you are not prepared to answer these questions, you may have issues obtaining the permission you need to move your project forward.

Examples of Entitlement

Entitlement can come in many forms, including:

  • Rezoning: A property’s zoning dictates what you can and can’t do with the land. If the area is not zoned for your intended use, you may need to go through the rezoning process. This can be complicated and lengthy. Sometimes, rezoning is not possible.
  • Zoning variances: This can include the number of parking spaces, building heights and setbacks.
  • Use permits: You may be required to obtain a conditional use permit for your project.
  • Utility approvals: If utilities are not already at the site, you may need to seek approval for them. You may also need to donate land to the city for utility entitlements.
  • Road approvals: If there are no existing roads that connect the property, you may need to seek approval for the creation of these as well. You’ll also need to consider easements and access.
  • Landscaping: Your local planning and development agency may also need to grant you approval for your landscaping.

The Importance of Hiring an Experienced Development Team

It’s important to note that the entitlement process can take anywhere between 3 and 12 months – sometimes longer. Yes, it’s a lengthy and complicated process, but it is absolutely necessary. Part of the reason why this process takes so long is because city planners have different interpretations of local rules. Oftentimes, approvals will be required at the city, state and county levels, and these agencies typically do not communicate with one another. This can complicate the matter and delay a project’s launch. Before we move onto how the entitlement process works, let’s first discuss the importance of hiring an experienced development team.

A professional development team will have the experience and the network to help you get your project moving along relatively quickly. Ideally, a team should consist of architects, lawyers, developers, project consultants and engineers. These individuals will likely have good working relationships with planners on the state, county and local levels, which will help you get the approval you need more quickly. They’ll also be able to negotiate issues on your behalf, eliminating the need to submit additional requests to the local jurisdiction.

How the Entitlement Process Works

Most development projects will go through several different aspects of the entitlement process, and some may also be required to be put through several public hearings for approval.

Here’s how the process works:

  1. Commercial development will require approval from the Planning Department Review Division or the Development Review Board. Your development team will create a land use pre-application, which will comply with local codes.
  2. A meeting date will be scheduled where you and your team will meet with the Planning Department to review your proposed project. This part of the process will also include approval of your land site, colors, elevations, vicinity map, landscaping, and other factors. At this time, you will also be required to submit environmental information, and pay the required fee. Fees very from one jurisdiction to another.
  3. If you’re site plan is rejected, you can submit an appeal to the City Council. Appeals vary from city to city.
  4. Once your site has been approved, you will then need to have your design approved and obtain your master use permits. This is where your architect will come in. The design approval will require your architect to submit plans for various aspects of the building and its landscaping.
  5. A neighborhood hearing will likely be held. You may be asked to send out written notices or to post information on the city’s website. The city will also submit notices to neighbors. An open house meeting is typically held. It’s important to be prepared for this part of the process, as you’ll need to gain neighborhood approval in order to proceed. Your development team can help you succeed in this process. Even if you comply with all the local regulatory codes and regulations, the neighborhood may not approve your project and prevent it from moving forward.
  6. If your property contains wetlands, you will need to acquire special documentation that details whether the Wetlands Act applies to your land or not. If wetlands complicate the project’s approval, it may be best to either set aside that portion of the land, or donate it to avoid issues.

There are many hurdles that you’ll need to overcome during the lengthy, complex entitlement process. But it’s just a part of the development game. Without the appropriate entitlements, you can’t legally move forward with your project. To convince local officials and residents that your project will benefit the community, you’ll need the help of experienced professionals who have working relationships with local agencies. You’ll also need to do plenty of local outreach to get residents on-board with the idea.

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