Moving Residential Development Forward Across the Carolinas 

09 May, 2024

A Q&A with Rich Keagy, PE, LEED AP 


Residential single-family development is flourishing across the Southeast, with cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, and Raleigh/Durham establishing their positions among the top 10 markets for homebuilding prospects.

Charlotte, in particular, has emerged as a “magnet market,” attracting individuals and corporations alike. According to ULI’s 2024 Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report these regions are beacons of growth and opportunity.

However, within these opportunities lie challenges, including constraints on public water and sewer capacity, transportation and density concerns, and frequently lengthy permitting timelines.

To learn more about how to navigate these challenges and maintain development momentum, we sat down with Rich Keagy, PE, LEED AP, Bohler Carolinas Regional Manager. He shares insights on effectively tackling these unique hurdles and propelling residential development forward in the vibrant landscape of the Carolinas.

According to the data, there is a strong demand for single-family residential throughout the Charlotte suburbs. What are some of the challenges that developers are facing to supply this type of housing?

The most significant challenge is the lack of water and sewer capacity, particularly in areas like Union County and Cabarrus County. Municipalities are working to secure funding for more water and sewer infrastructure, such as new or expanded plants and pipes, pump stations, and wastewater treatment facilities. However, the process is expected to take several years, and in some instances, new residential projects are required to be designed and permitted before joining the wait list for connection.

Developers are consequently faced with the choice of footing the bill to extend these systems themselves, which comes with a hefty price tag, or implementing on-site septic systems and wells for each lot, that comes with its own set of challenges, if feasible at all.

Because of cost considerations, the majority of builders favor on-site septic solutions where lots must be at least one acre in size, and wells must be spaced at least 100 feet from septic systems. Furthermore, environmental soil testing is required to determine the feasibility of these lots for septic systems.  While many locations across the Piedmont and upstate South Carolina can accommodate these systems, most builders would prefer properties with access to public water and sewer.

Although this model doesn’t suit every home builder, it can be successful. We are currently helping a developer in a county near Charlotte with the evaluation and design of a large development that utilizes an on-site septic solution to effectively navigate the county’s sewer capacity constraints.

How do developers identify and assess potential sites quickly?

Developers can gain access to a pool of potential sites that are tailored to their needs by leveraging industry connections and collaborating with experienced brokers. My team works closely with brokers to provide preliminary assessments of zoning feasibility and the likelihood of successful rezoning, offering valuable insights into the site’s suitability. The next crucial step in the assessment process is to perform a preliminary due diligence analysis. This involves evaluating key factors such as:

  • Water and sewer availability
  • Soil quality, particularly when on-site septic is proposed 
  • Zoning and density expectations
  • Local school district impacts
  • Preliminary grading analysis
  • Transportation impacts and potential requests
  • Anticipated permitting challenges 

Earthwork is one of the most costly elements of a project. As a result, investing in a conceptual grading and utility plan is an important initial step toward understanding a project’s development potential and controlling costs. When determining the most effective grading approach, we focus on balancing the site and utilizing the existing dirt to minimize costly import and export fees.

See Related: Topographical Challenges Have You Headed for the Hills?

Once a site has passed the initial go/no-go process, how can developers prioritize the next steps to ensure it meets their needs?

Evaluating Department of Transportation (DOT) roadway requirements is essential. Efficient site access and circulation design not only enhance accessibility but also significantly impact the layout and design of the entire community.

For instance, when designing roadways for properties with proposed basements, routing roads along ridges and high points allows for natural grading and facilitates the creation of walk-out basements.

Conversely, for properties where basements are not desired, roadways might be routed differently to accommodate necessary drainage and simplify stormwater management.

See relateD: 6 ways to improve your due diligence checklist

Either way, the creation of new roads or connections to existing ones often entails traffic studies and jurisdictional fees. It’s important to determine the number of connected roads and access points required according to applicable codes. Moreover, understanding off-site traffic impacts and devising mitigation strategies is paramount.

At Bohler, we help developers assess traffic circulation dynamics and collaborate with local authorities, neighboring communities, and municipalities to address concerns effectively. Coordinating with DOT can streamline the implementation of off-site improvements and enhance traffic flow, ultimately optimizing the site’s functionality while mitigating costs.  We do this prior to rezoning discussions to ensure clear understanding and alignment with the expectations of local or state DOTs.

Permitting and entitlements timelines might range from 6 – 36 months across the Carolinas. How can development teams expedite this process and begin construction as soon as possible?

Engaging the design team prior to site due diligence is critical. By involving our site planning and civil engineering teams early in the process, developers can leverage their expertise to develop a systematic approach to research, budgeting, and timeline planning. This proactive collaboration enables the identification of important milestones and factors that could impact deal structures, laying a solid foundation for efficient project execution.

Simultaneous document submissions offer another effective strategy to expedite the process. Running zoning and construction documents plan sets concurrently shortens the overall project schedule and accelerates the permitting timeline. Additionally, prioritizing specific steps, such as obtaining early clearing or mass grading permits, allows contractors to commence work promptly while finalizing the remaining permitting requirements, facilitating on-time or ahead-of-schedule project completion.

Collaboration with local stakeholders is paramount for navigating the intricacies of regional dynamics. Understanding the community’s needs and remaining flexible in project design are essential. Meeting with local stakeholders to solicit feedback fosters goodwill and enhances project acceptance. Moreover, taking the initiative to educate reviewers through the process can mitigate delays caused by inexperienced staff, leading to smoother reviews and approvals.

Utilizing a permit expediting team further enhances efficiency by ensuring accurate and timely submissions. Collaborating closely with municipalities and diligent follow-up expedites the review process and approvals, minimizing project timelines.

Ready to move forward in the Carolinas? Connect with Rich.  

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