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Building on Your Lot? As a lot owner there’s a slew of  info you should know.

Finally you have your own lot.  Perhaps you’re a first time lot owner in your dream exclusive subdivision, or an up and coming project manager with your first assignment for the corporate headquarters in the city, or you’re the businessman with plans for your factory in a vacant industrial lot.  What do you do and how do you start?  The following are some items and information you will need to see the viability and suitability of your idea to the location you have.

Lot Verification

Trusting that you have a verified Title of the property it will be necessary to confirm that the physical lot you call your own is the actual lot that your title describes.  This item is usually required by the  associations & building officials.  It’s done by a licensed surveyor employed to verify the lot monuments as described by the title, and to put them in if there are none found.  Knowing that your lot is really your lot, your architect and consultants can then confidently proceed to plan.

Zoning & Classification

All lots locally have a zoning and land use classification.  The general information can be looked up from the National Building Code, but for your particular lot’s zoning and classification the data can be found in the your City’s or Municipality’s Planning Department.  The following are some of information you’ll get:

Allowed uses-just because you own the lot doesn’t necessarily mean you can do anything with it, there are uses that have been recommended so that schools don’t find themselves between factories or industrial facilities.  Classifications are usually: residential, commercial, industrial, institutional etc.  For better or worse, whether strictly adhered to or not, it’s important to know your lot’s classification.

Setbacks-these are the required clear distances that are free of any construction measured from the edge of your property line, commercial have longer setbacks from residential, encroachments are permissible given certain conditions.

Building Heights-certain land classifications, like residential, allow buildings up to only 3 storey or 9 meters.  Commercial allow for higher, but for certain locations that are near airports, you will need to also get clearance from your local aviation authority.

Parking requirements-for a house this is not always a problem, but if you are building a large multi-residential building or an office and other large buildings, you will be required to provide a certain number of parking slots against the size of your building.  This is usually expressed in a parking ratio for example 1:100sqm means you need to provide 1 car slot for every 100 square meters.  Sometimes if you cannot provide the parking required it can affect the size of building you are planning.

Basement requirements-some cities allow basements to approach the property line, in others they follow the setbacks on the ground floor.  A basement is of particular interest because of the parking slots you will accommodate, as well as in terms of what equipment you can place there without sacrificing any of your ground floor space, specially in large buildings.  For residences, basements may be an option in lots that have a lower elevation.

Deed of Restrictions

As the state or local government sets limitations on the use of a property through the Zoning and Classification for the good of the public, the developers or sellers of the lot you are purchasing or have purchased set limitations in a list called the Deed of Restrictions to protect the “value” of your property.  If you are just about to purchase a lot, you must read this document as it may greatly affect your expectations in the future, if you have bought your lot, review this document with your architect so that the design process can proceed within the guidelines and any question can be brought to the developer prior to bidding or construction.  The following are a few items to be aware of:

Setbacks- the setbacks of the developer are usually greater than the zoning ordinances from my experience, but between the two whichever is most restrictive is what will govern.  Be wary of the setbacks for corner lots, as well as rules for swimming pools, canopies, balconies etc. as these may have rules indicated in the setbacks.

Buildable area- the area you can build is also contained in the zoning and land use classification, but as again it may be more restrictive in some places.  For example a resort type subdivision I have encountered required only 30% of the lot to be buildable area, the intent was to protect the leisure type development from being overly built up and to create more greens and landscaping.

Open space-as well as limits on the buildable area, you may have also limits on the type of open space you have, some may only have a certain required area for “hardscape areas” like walkways, driveways & foot paths.  I’m aware that this also helps in creating catchment for rain water run off, so that there is enough  ground space for water to seep back in to the soil.

Building Height-though the height is mentioned in the zoning and classification, the deed of restriction may have the same limits like 9.00 meters, but will give a definition where the limit is measured from.  One particular restriction was to measure from the highest corner monument of the lot.  If the highest corner monument does not coincide with the highest point on your lot it may mean more cost in terms of excavation and shoring to retain the soil, or hauling for the removal.

Utility requirements- in some places you are required to have you own utilities on site, some municipalities without the facility to recycle and reuse water may require you to have your own sewer treatment plant as in large developments.  For residential areas, sometimes they also require a certain type of generator for your use, for example 70 decibel rated generators so that they do not cause noise pollution and disturbance.

Recommended Architectural Style-this is a particular problem for a client who has a certain expectation as to the look of the building, but was not informed about the restriction of the lot prior to purchase.  Some styles that I have encountered are: California Missionary, Modern and other that are ambiguous like Asian Modern, Asian Tropical.  It would be best to have your designer coordinate with the approving authority so that the intent of the developers can be taken into your consideration and proper planning can accommodate the requirement for approval.

All in all these items are important to be revisited because these shall be what the approving authorities will check on for the approval of your building permit.  The building officials will always refer to the building code, local ordinances, zoning and land use classifications in use, and the developer or owner’s association shall review compliance to the deed of restrictions before endorsement.  Not to mention it will also be the items that will define the work of your architect and consultants, any change or variation shall greatly impact the outcome of the project.