Media Center

6 ways to build a foundation for a development project

November 7, 2016

By Mark Stanley

The best laid development plans often go astray.

When a new commercial or housing development, warehouse or other major project is on the drawing board for a Pennsylvania community, project leaders must look at far more than traffic, density, zoning and infrastructure.  The citizens of the neighborhood and locally elected and appointed leaders are a key and critical piece of the planning mosaic.

Before any project is launched, the community’s input must be sought, considered and incorporated whenever possible, at each stage of the project.  When developers are hobbled by alternative or negative connotations and stay only in their own lane, unforeseen problems can crop up and make a simple project a costly and contentious ride.

Many projects have been jeopardized when timing take precedence over outreach, discussion, alternative analysis and collaborative dialogue.

Here are six things to do before launching a new building project.

1. Assemble the right team.

From the engineers to traffic consultants to land use attorneys, the right people must be on board from the get-go.  Other specialists should be hired as well if there is a unique issue that lies outside your area of expertise, such as historical preservation or wetlands management

2. Do your homework.

Due diligence is a must.  Conduct a code review of applicable ordinances. Examine title issues.  There may be restrictions or easements. Before finalizing plans and working with township staff, visit the site.  Consider the neighborhood and road systems and secure and retain an accurate overview of the site, adjoining properties and the adjoining infrastructure.

3. Understand the politics.

Explore what was previously proposed for the property.  Have other projects been brought up and defeated? Why? What was the opposition? Who led it? What were the concerns of neighbors?

4. Control the timing of the initial filing.

Before filing your plan for the world to see, meet with township officials first and key neighbors. Try to pick up key nuances.  Meet in small groups or one-on-one with these important decisions makers and community opinion leaders and explain the plans thoroughly to them. They can be important ambassadors for your project. Open and honest communication is vital to the success of any endeavor.

5. Know your permits

Going in to your project, make sure you know what state permits apply, including those from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Transportation (PennDOT). It’s important to understand the impact they have on your design, layout and project timing.

6. Most important: Maintain credibility

Township officials or neighbors will not always agree with you and some will oppose your plans no matter what. Your goal, realistically, is not to transform opponents into advocates, but to at least get them to the point where they can say, “I disagree with you, but you were up-front with me and you did what you said you were going to do.” This rapport and acceptance from neighbors will help you not only in the project at hand but in the long-run for other developments.

As the housing market heats up and construction season is in full swing, these six lessons can help pave the way for a project that both fits in with the community and that officials and residents will welcome.

Mark Stanley is a member of McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC’s Real Estate Group and focuses his practice on zoning, land use and land development matters. He can be reached at 717-581-2315 or