There’s more than one way to design a site plan, and when our team helps clients evaluate a parcel of land, we recommend a site analysis and feasibility study to determine the best solution for the project. We explore what’s possible within a variety of parameters:
- Client’s goals
- Site location
- Site features and characteristics
- Neighboring communities
- Zoning restrictions
- Infrastructure access
- Traffic implications
- Local market analysis and politics
One Site Plan, Four Ways
Let’s walk through a few of our team’s approaches to an example of a site feasibility study. As an urban infill lot with relatively flat terrain, this particular site enjoys access to existing infrastructure in addition to nearby services, employment centers, shopping, dining, and recreation. The lot’s .62-acre size and rectangular shape make it a good candidate for both missing middle housing and higher-density residential.
Scheme 1: Three-Story Townhomes
First up, we have a collection of three-story townhomes in a single-row, east-west configuration. Using two identical buildings is an effective way to save on construction and soft costs. Two buildings also avoid having a long continuous building mass that could be detrimental to a community that is sensitive to change. The design will also add some welcome open space to an otherwise tight site.
- 12 units
- 20 parking spaces
- Open space: 12,241 SF or 47%
Because the site size is under an acre, many municipalities don’t require on-site containment of storm runoff, which is a plus. With four middle units per building, there are many shared walls that present opportunities for unwelcome noise transfers. We recommend an area separation wall using a shaft liner system to achieve a higher STC rating than the minimum code requirements. This configuration also presents light and ventilation challenges. Middle units in particular require an adequate number of windows. Keeping the units shallow helps natural light travel and reach the center of the floor plans.
At 12 total units, this site plan offers increased profit potential over a duplex unit configuration. However, with only four end units, price premiums may be limited.
Some parcels may require zoning changes to allow for increased densities. The good news is more cities are re-evaluating their zoning codes and are open to changes or workarounds (rezoning, upzoning, new overlay zones) to build more housing quickly. Keep in mind, however, that zoning decisions are influenced by local politics and can change quickly after an election cycle.
Townhomes offer buyers more square footage than condominiums and a convenient, lower-maintenance lifestyle. This particular neighborhood has a walk score of 53, so buyers can perform some errands on foot and enjoy some access to mass transit and bike transportation.
Townhomes are typically more affordable than single-family homes and duplex units, so this neighborhood may be attainable for a wider swath of buyers. Three unit types allow marketing to three different buyer profiles. Middle units are usually tougher to sell, though pricing could be the unique feature to entice buyers. The absence of any amenities may make it hard to compete with nearby communities that offer them.
With 20 parking spaces provided, each residence will enjoy one or two dedicated spaces, depending on their unit. The lack of on-site visitor parking, however, could be an issue. Street parking is available at this particular site, but that may not always be the case. Local parking ordinances should be clearly understood and considered.
Scheme 2: Three-Story Townhomes
Here’s a variation of scheme one that reconfigures three-story townhomes into four north-south columns of three units each. Two interior buildings are bisected by a garden court amenity that offers views and a community gathering space.
- 12 units
- 20 parking spaces
- Open space: 14,519 SF (54%)
Construction considerations are similar to those of Scheme 1 above. Separating two buildings into four will require additional exterior materials, raising construction costs. Four buildings of three units each reduce noise transmission mitigation and potentially additional costs.
While the site plan’s density remains the same as scheme one, this townhome configuration creates more price premium potential with four additional end units and units that face the green space.
Zoning opportunities and challenges are also similar to scheme one. Given the buildings’ closer location to the street, setback requirements should also be reviewed for this design and will vary by each municipality’s zoning ordinances.
This site plan design breaks up the townhome units into four buildings. The visual effect of fewer units per building may appeal to more buyers who may be priced out of a single-family home. The addition of a shared community space may make the project more competitive with other amenity-rich communities with higher HOA dues. The site plan also presents a more balanced approach to massing to increase curb appeal and gain more acceptance from the community.
In this site plan, traffic flow into the neighborhood is decentralized among the four buildings. Similar to scheme one, 20 parking spaces are provided via alley-loaded garages. No visitor parking is available on the property. As a development incentive, some cities have reduced their parking requirements to lower construction costs and free up more of the site for additional units.
Scheme 3: Three-Story Duplexes
In this site plan, we’re introducing a collection of duplex units among a total of five buildings in an east-west direction.
- 10 units
- 20 parking spaces
- Open space: 12,995 SF (49%)
Similar to Scheme 2, a duplex configuration will cost more to build given the additional exterior skin that’s required for each building.
Duplex units here are fewer and larger. Profit potential may be reduced, however the loss could be mitigated or even eliminated through higher unit pricing. Minneapolis was the first city to end single-family zoning, and other cities are beginning to follow suit. This allows more “missing middle housing” development like duplexes, triplexes, and cottage courts. What’s more, some jurisdictions are looking at development incentives for this type of housing, like density bonuses, reduced development fees, and tax exemptions.
A duplex design offers improved curb appeal over higher-density properties, especially to buyers who are priced out of a single-family home. Its exterior architecture and livability are as close as an attached product can get to a detached home. Duplexes may attract a buyer profile with deeper pockets, but the lack of open space and kid-friendly amenities may keep some families away.
The number of parking spaces is similar to that of schemes one and two, also within alley-loaded garages. While this site plan provides adequate parking for residents, there is no on-site guest parking. As previously mentioned, reduced parking requirements are becoming more common as a development incentive. Lack of parking could become an issue with buyers and in the future when they become owners.
Scheme 4: Two- or Three-Story Stacked Flats
A higher-density option is also possible, and here we’ve created a collection of stacked flats among three two-story buildings with the option to add a third story. The building provides garage or covered parking, depending on the plan, and a third-level community deck in the center building with the three-story option.
- 2-story option: 16 units
- 3-story option: 20 units
- 35 parking spaces
- Open space: 11,196 SF (42%)
In a higher density project, the increased number of units increases the possibility of construction issues and defect claims. Construction defect litigation laws as they stand in many states make it nearly impossible for developers to assume this level of risk.
Stacked flats represent the highest density option in this residential feasibility study. With 16-20 total units, there’s even more profit potential. Unit sizes and features vary, so there’s an opportunity to appeal to additional buyer segments. Price premium opportunities include larger units, units with garages, and units with views.
Depending on the area’s zoning ordinance, upzoning or a zoning overlay may be required, similar to schemes one through three. And as cities continue struggling to meet housing demand, developers may be able to take advantage of various tax, construction, and parking incentives, depending on the jurisdiction.
The appeal of higher-density projects is market-specific, so we recommend a thorough analysis to anticipate how the design will meet the needs of the community. The availability of a single-story plan may attract households that prefer the ease of single-level living. The shared deck is an attractive amenity that may offer some differentiation in a competitive market.
On the flip side, stacked flat facades tend to look more like apartments than single-family homes and could reduce their aesthetic appeal. There’s a pervasive myth that higher-density projects reduce property values in the surrounding areas (studies show the opposite is true), so there may be some pushback from nearby residents.
Ample resident and guest parking is provided at 1.5 spaces per unit, representing a mix of garages, carports, and standard spaces. Some units do not include a garage, so adequate storage space may be a concern among some buyers.
Enlisting the guidance of an architectural firm with expertise in residential feasibility early in the project will help you maximize your profit potential, provide much-needed housing, and create something that enhances the neighborhood fabric. Already evaluating land? Contact us to learn more about our architectural feasibility services.
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