Developers: Use Master Engineering to Enhance ROI

Creating well‐functioning places for residents and employees to live, work, and play: throughout history we have master planned sites as an independent exercise with this goal in mind. Participants applaud the conceptual Master Plan then hand it off to engineers for implementation.

Unfortunately, many Master Plans do not incorporate critical engineering considerations. The result may be unintended consequences for land development projects, including excessive site grading, inefficient water supply and sanitary sewer service, and incomplete or ineffective stormwater management infrastructure. What if engineers were involved to help integrate infrastructure, storm water and grading scenarios into the Master Plan?

Many land development clients and engineers believe this early‐stage or “Master Engineering” can be accomplished without diluting the creative juices that drive innovative, interesting Master Plans.

Why engineering so soon?

Return on Investment (ROI) is of utmost importance to land developers. It is relatively easy to know if the Master Plan achieved the developer’s vision to deliver an acceptable ROI. The vision usually includes:

  • Maximizing access and visibility for commercial sites
  • Maximizing the number of residential lots
  • Attracting potential buyers

Outcome focused Master Planning provides solutions to these basic development issues, and addresses the revenue side of ROI. But what about the expense side of the balance sheet?

Land development can be a lengthy process, with significant investment and expense before revenue starts to flow, as illustrated below.

flowchart graphic

Developers expect revenue will exceed the soft and hard costs of development. This simple assumption often comes true and the developer is pleased. But if the Master Planning process was modified slightly to incorporate Master Engineering, developers might be more than pleased. They could be ecstatic.

Master Engineering and Master Planning as an integrated process

Bringing engineers into the Master Planning process early is typically considered an added expense. However, our experience has demonstrated that when Master Planning is coupled with Master Engineering the engineering expense is not more—it is merely transferred from the design and approvals phase to the Master Planning phase of the land development project cycle. What’s more, we often see a significant reduction in construction costs when engineering considerations are incorporated into the Master Plan

Three ways Master Engineering can save you money

Sanitary sewer service is a significant cost when developing a site. Master Engineering can result in more efficient design by eliminating, consolidating or deferring installation of some sanitary sewer lift stations. In addition, sewer pipe depth can be pre‐planned to avoid overly conservative approaches to serve future phases. If pipe schematics are incorporated in the Master Plan, both pipe depth and length can be optimized.

Complex storm water requirements are another significant cost for land developers. Master Engineering allows developers to incorporate retention and detention into the Master Plan in order to manage increased water incrementally. This approach typically results in less pipe length and overall smaller diameter pipe requirements.

Finally, site grading can be optimized through Master Engineering by matching the Master Plan with the terrain.

Connecting the plans to deliver results

A Nebraska‐based land developer recently asked SEH to assist with the grading plan for a new residential subdivision.

The developer’s land planning firm had completed the Master Plan, but engineers were not involved in the process, and did not interact with the land planning firm. The Plan met many of the developer’s requirements, but it did not effectively consider land elevation and terrain conditions resulting in earthwork costs that far exceeded the developer’s expectations. His ROI was in jeopardy.

At the suggestion of the land planning firm, SEH immediately reviewed the site and the existing Master Plan and suggested slight revisions. The revisions optimized the site without changing the integrity of the Plan. Together, the developer, the land planner and SEH created a new Master Plan that incorporated Master Engineering approaches to terrain, water and sewer service, and storm water patterns. The Master Engineering concepts transitioned into a detailed grading plan within the design phase of the project.

The overall savings resulting from the re‐design? $291,000. The re‐design fees represent only a fraction of the savings, allowing the developer to benefit from a significant decrease in site grading costs.

The developer’s ROI was also enhanced through reduced storm water pipe costs, individually graded house pads, and increased lot values due to less builder incurred lot grading.

Imagine the savings if Master Engineering was part of the Master Planning process from the start.

The SEH Master Engineering approach is based on collaboration. We bring together all members of the team early‐on to help match the developer’s vision with what the site offers. As regulations, natural features and topography make finding buildable sites more challenging, Master Engineering can be the ounce of prevention that helps developers avoid a pound of cure.

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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