Topographical Challenges Have You Heading for the Hills?

08 November, 2023
Steep Slopes Don’t Have to Mean Steep Development Budgets


Why Steep Slopes Don’t Have to Mean Steep Development Budgets

Extensive earthwork and exporting soils eat into your bottom line. As a result, sites with exceptionally hilly topography or significant grade changes may appear costly and be disregarded.

However, with the right team in place, savvy developers are finding creative ways to make these sites feasible. Here are five examples of development teams successfully handling grade changes without extensive earthwork or soil export costs, transforming obstacles into opportunities.

Hanwha QCells Solar Manufacturing Facility

Cartersville, GA

While the location was ideal to complement Hanwha’s adjacent facility, the property had a challenging 100-foot grade change from north to south. During design, Bohler utilized previously established elevations to create the site layout, but during construction, the contractor discovered a significant amount of excess dirt. To alleviate costs for the client, Bohler’s team collaborated with the project architect to remove a previously planned loading dock, which allowed for the north side of the building to be raised in elevation. The solution saved 60,000 cubic yards of dirt from being hauled offsite, which equates to approximately 3,500 truckloads.


Towson Row Mixed-Use

Towson, MD

The topography in Towson is challenging for developers – the land is hilly, and most sites contain significant grade variations. At Towson Row, Bohler’s site civil engineering team worked closely with multiple project architects to develop creative building layouts that work with the topography. Several buildings have multi-floor differences between their fronts and backs. For example, on one side of Whole Foods, pedestrians enter on the second floor while on the other side, street level is one floor down.

Bohler’s landscape architecture team also tackled uneven topography in their plaza design. Focused on activating the street-level spaces to draw pedestrians to the retail shops and restaurants, the team created a plaza that incorporates a series of tiered planters, a feature stairway, and fountains with both jets and waterfalls.


see related: 5 times early landscape architect engagement is key

AmeriHealth Caritas Headquarters

Newtown Square, PA

Tasked with designing for a large corporate office, Bohler faced a 22-foot grade change across the site, and various space constraints. Proposing a bold design that used every inch of available space, the team found a solution to incorporate the parking garage into the existing elevation. In addition to limiting earthwork costs, Bohler identified an opportunity to maintain open ventilation on the backside of the parking garage. Sloping down one floor, the back of the garage is open on two floors, allowing the client to forego a costly ventilation system. The team brought additional value to the project by incorporating a second entrance and exit point at the back of the structure.


Warren Corporate Center Amenity Building

Warren, NJ

Challenged with creating an amenity space easily accessible, visible, and centralized in the campus, the developer faced a 16-foot grade change across the site. The team creatively designed the hub to work harmoniously with the existing topography, allowing for accessibility between the top-level green roof, adjacent parking deck, and northern office buildings. This approach avoided extensive earthwork while maintaining walkability from all five office buildings and visibility from numerous vehicular entrances.

Warren Corporate Center in Warren, NJ


Elkridge Woods Residential Community

Hanover, MD

With undeveloped land hard to come by, residential developer Elm Street Development sought to maximize buildable lots on a 15-acre property featuring a staggering 90-foot grade change. To keep the project moving forward and minimize earthwork costs, Bohler focused on creating desirable home sites while utilizing existing grades for the internal roadways. In some areas, Bohler incorporated shared driveways to fit more lots into areas that couldn’t accommodate a public road right-of-way. Despite the complexity of the terrain, Bohler was able to maximize density and deliver usable home sites that attract buyers.

The Bottom Line

Before you pass up the next topographically challenged site, consider options to work with the existing grade. Enlist a forward-thinking partner like Bohler to develop cost-effective solutions and create opportunities to add value to the end result.

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