Streamlining the Land Development Approval Process

22 March, 2024

4 Ways Site Civil Engineers Collaborate with Land Use Attorneys

In the fast-paced and ever-evolving land development industry, developers need a cohesive team that is committed to assist the client in the client’s pursuit of their end goals, from the start. Bringing a project to fruition is a complex process that requires collaborative effort.

While experienced design and construction partners are essential, the collaboration between site civil engineers and land use attorneys is often underestimated – despite its significant impact on efficiency and obtaining approvals. Here are four best practices to improve collaboration between these two key players.

  1. 1. Depth of Due Diligence to Create Baseline Data

A comprehensive zoning review is an important first step in the land development process and requires close collaboration between the site civil engineer and the land use attorney.

When we both do a deep dive, we don’t miss anything and we have a firm understanding of the zoning relief we need.

— Julie Von Spreckelsen, Eastburn & Gray

Typically, land use attorneys rely on site civil engineers to conduct these extensive evaluations. Zoning ordinances vary widely, with provisions that may be challenging to locate or interpret. By engaging both the site civil engineer and attorney in the detailed analysis, potential project hurdles can be identified and addressed proactively.

See Related: Due Diligence TIME CRUNCH? 6 Items not to miss

Beyond zoning review, the site civil engineer can create the baseline data necessary for the attorney to navigate the approval process, including CAD layouts, bulk calculations, stormwater engineering, site design, and grading. This collaborative approach is essential, so that no crucial details are missed, and the team has a comprehensive understanding of the zoning relief required.

  1. 2. Open Communication and Accessibility

Effective communication is the cornerstone of all successful collaborations. In the land development process, an open line of communication between site civil engineers and land use attorneys is crucial for a smooth approval process.

As progress plans are developed, site civil engineers should share their plans with both the client and the land use attorney. The attorney’s review, albeit more cursory than the client’s, provides a valuable second perspective.

In turn, the engineer may identify potential issues, leading to further discussions and adjustments. The ability of the engineer to respond to the attorney’s questions quickly is paramount, so that concerns or uncertainties are promptly addressed, minimizing delays in the approval process.

  1. 3. Ability to Think Outside the Box and Develop Creative Solutions

Land development can present challenges that require creative problem-solving. The most effective partnership between land development consultants and land use attorneys occurs when both parties provide technical expertise and a willingness to think outside the box.

See Related: maintaining momentum through permitting and Entitlements

Site civil engineers are encouraged to merge technical expertise with practical application, considering a variety of solutions to overcome obstacles. Attorneys value engineers who don’t adhere to rigid boundaries but recognize that the “box” is malleable. Exploring unconventional solutions improves the team’s problem-solving capabilities, resulting in a more streamlined approval process and increased value for the client.

 Bohler’s engineers have always been out-of-the-box thinkers, which I really appreciate.

— Gregg Adelman, Kaplan Stewart

  1. 4. Hearing Preparation, Exhibits, and Presentation Skills

The final stage of the approval process often involves public hearings, during which effective collaboration between land development consultants and land use attorneys is important.

Hearing preparation involves exhibit preparation, during which both professionals work together to establish what should be shown. Land use attorneys offer their legal expertise to guide the process and address the exhibits’ compliance with legal requirements while effectively communicating the project’s benefits.

See Related: 5 Times to Engage a Landscape Architect

During hearings, strong presentation and testimony skills are essential, including knowing when to answer questions directly, avoiding tangents, and maintaining a professional demeanor. Additionally, if objectors present their witnesses, collaboration between the site civil engineer and attorney is essential. Working as a true team, the engineer can take notes during the hearing, identifying potential weaknesses and enabling the attorney to conduct a more effective cross-examination.

Streamlining Approvals

A cohesive, collaborative, and targeted approach is important in working towards obtaining land development approvals efficiently.


Need a design + attorney team that collaborates?

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About Adam Benosky, RLA
Adam Benosky, Managing Partner Central Division

Adam serves as Managing Partner in Bohler’s Central division, leading the firm’s operations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. After joining Bohler in 2003, Adam helped to grow the firm’s presence across Pennsylvania, establishing offices in Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Through a collaborative and hands-on leadership approach, Adam has helped numerous clients launch successful national development programs and has brought creative solutions to challenging, complex projects. Adam is focused on staff empowerment, playing an active role as a mentor in many of the firm’s career development initiatives.

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