Architectural Feasibility Studies: Here’s What You Need to Know

You have a great idea for a project. Or you’re eyeing a beautiful piece of land for your next development opportunity. Have you taken into account whether the work that goes into developing the land will be worth the investment? Do you know how to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the land at your chosen site? That’s where partnering with the right team for an architectural feasibility study can take your project to the next level — and help you move forward with confidence. At KGA, that’s just one of our many areas of expertise. Let’s dig into what the process looks like and what you can expect:

What is a feasibility study — and what role does it play in planning?

The number one goal for clients in community and commercial design is making a profit on their project. To KGA, that means developing a strategy on the best use of the land. As the architect or planner, we begin by learning about the parcel’s zoning and what type of use is allowed. (In the community design world this usually leads to determining what type of density is permitted.) Other factors that come into play that influence land use and density include terrain, infrastructure, and even current politics.

Once the research, or what we call discovery, is complete, it’s time to put pencil to paper. At this point a site sketch is prepared taking all of the information into account to determine what type of density can be achieved. The developer will then run a proforma to determine if the project can be built and sold to create the profit expected by investors. These feasibility studies — ones that center specifically on the architectural component of the proforma — are often quick, but do help the developer do a gut check to see if the project has any possibility of being successful.

Who is responsible for undertaking the study?

A feasibility study will often involve collaboration between the developer, a civil engineer, and the architect or land planner.

How early in the process should I perform a feasibility study?

As far as KGA is concerned, we can never be brought into the process too early. Plan for the feasibility study to kick off once the developer has obtained a survey of the property, done a little work to determine the zoning, and — hopefully — done a market study. The land will also generally be under contract with an “Option to Buy,” which is when the due diligence period begins. You should expect more than one study in the first phase. Your architect or planner will explore several possibilities based on the information they have, each one with a different approach or concept to facilitate an open discussion with the team.

What is the value of an architectural feasibility study — can my project move forward without one?

We would never consider doing a project without a feasibility study; it’s truly invaluable. That said, the study is only as accurate as the information you start with, so the discovery process is crucial. Having a good team with a wide breadth of expertise is a great place to start before we dig into questions like: How does the land itself influence our plan? Are we working within a floodplain? Is there a utility easement or drainage and grading restrictions? Are there utilities such as water, sewer, and electric available at or near the site? All of these things can impact a great idea and the viability of a given project.

What kind of experts can I expect to work with on the study?

For the best plan that suits your goals, you’ll want a well-rounded team to help guide the process. That means you’ll need experts who understand the nuances of local jurisdictions and communities, have great ideas around possible architectural solutions, can do proper market research, and are up to date on regional construction standards.

For this land feasibility study, we placed 42 townhomes on a 7.5 acre site, achieving 5.6 du/acre. Units range from 2,200 to 2,600 SF with 2 to 3 bedrooms. 25 of the 42 units feature main floor primary suites. 6 units have the potential for a 3-car garage.

How much does a feasibility study cost and who pays for it?

The developer normally pays for the feasibility study. In terms of cost, it really depends on the scope of the project, the information we have to start with, and the expectations of each team member. It can be advantageous to work with a team that is already familiar with each other, to expedite the process since the timeframe for due diligence is usually short.

What if I’m not happy with the results?

You should be prepared to ask questions throughout the process, but it’s especially important to ask how the team determined results if you’re not happy with how they turned out. The purpose of a feasibility study is to explore opportunities, which usually includes more than one solution. In fact, we’ve never seen one single solution to any problem when it comes to design. And the right solution is the one that meets your project’s needs, so be vocal and speak up if the plans aren’t coming together like you expected.

What’s KGA’s approach to feasibility studies?

Every touchpoint we have with our clients starts with the same commitment: listening to your goals, gathering as much information as possible to guide our work, and then collaborating throughout the process. That’s the same whether we’re kicking off a feasibility study, architectural planning, or schematic design.

What else should someone know before commissioning a feasibility study?

If you’re a first-time developer, there’s a long list! Knowing how to read a zoning code is challenging, even for professionals. Also, you can’t always take marketing materials at face value. Your own market research is invaluable. Having a design team that can recognize all the opportunities and are willing to work toward the best outcome for you is essential.

When it comes to feasibility studies, KGA approaches the work as a partner to you. We have done feasibility studies that have ended with another architectural firm doing the final design and entitlements, and we’re okay with that. Our goal is to help clients find success, no matter what our role in the project is. If you have more questions about feasibility studies and how they relate to your project, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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