8 Rules of Successful Land Development Design

In the ever-changing world of land development, here are simple guidelines to building a development that makes everyone happy: owners, developers and end users.

What's in a successful land development design?

That's a difficult question to answer because there are so many different kinds of development: urban infill, residential, industrial/residential, and the list continues. Each has its own purposes and end goals. And looks different. But when we get to the bottom of a successful development, we find fundamental commonalities.

Success is simple, actually. It looks like this: happy owners, happy developers, happy users.

Over the years, I have developed a few simple land development design rules that have proven to make everyone happy. When a team gets stuck in the design phase, I’ve pulled these rules out again and again as a reminder of the basics.

Below, eight simple rules to build by.

1. Listen to the land.
The sculptor shapes a stone in ways that complement its natural size, shape and form. Land development is the same. Listen to what the land offers. Design a development that suits its natural shape and form.
2. Use space wisely.
The old adage “measure twice, cut once” applies to land development. Look at ways to be efficient in design. Most designs look efficient but are littered with wastes of space.
3. Match talent with client and market needs.
People. People. People. They make or break a successful land development. Put the right people in the right role on the right projects and you’re guaranteed to succeed. But don’t forget about the market — even the best people can’t beat that.
4. Design from the outside in.
The two largest areas to influence development costs are earthwork and storm water management. Start with the homes, then design the back yards to the property boundary and front yards to the street. This reduces the need to move dirt and efficiently manage storm water, which leads us to the next rule.

Related Content: 3 Tips for Identifying Waste in Land Development Master Plans

5. Save streets for last.
It’s an easy mistake to make. Design the street layout, then fit the houses around it. But people don’t live in streets, they live in homes on lots. Instead, design first for the user—the homes and lots. Save streets for last.
6. Don’t ignore topography.
There is an old saying among engineers, “stuff doesn’t run uphill.” What appears to be an efficient design for the first phase of a multi-phase project may not suit future phases. Gravity sewer is the lowest cost. Holistic planning allows for more gravity sewer and less reliance on lift stations.
7. Design each element for the greater whole.
Take a holistic approach to land development design. Integrate stormwater by turning stormwater conveyance into amenities while minimizing piping. Connect residents to features and destinations by planning pedestrian flow. Lay out your lots to maximize view corridors. Everything should add up to a perfect whole. Be intentional.
8. Be creative.
Routines are great for efficiency. But we can’t forget to break routines and think outside the box. Every land development is different. Each with its own challenges. If we fail to incorporate these unique nuances into the design, we’ve missed an opportunity. Creativity is key.


The market, housing trends, interest rates, consumer preference — much is out of our control in the world of land development. But if we remember the fundamentals and stick to the rules, we can positively impact what we can control and give ourselves the best chance for success.

About the Expert

Randy Jenniges

Randy Jenniges, PE, is a civil engineer, SEH Principal and project manager, and a specialist in maximizing ROI for developers. Contact Randy

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