Selecting the perfect site

Selecting the perfect site

Jun 01, 2005

Wayne Usiak, AIA
Site selection is the first major decision you'll make about your building project. And the location you choose can dramatically enhance your practice's success—or limit its potential. Undoubtedly, you need to think this critical decision through carefully.

The first step: Visit potential sites and analyze the features they offer. But don't stop there. When you find a site that seems to make the cut, do more research to learn about hidden problems like zoning restrictions. Even if you've already purchased a site, take the time to evaluate it thoroughly. After all, it's better to change your mind now than to realize down the road you've made a mistake.

Several companies can provide demographic data about your site location. For example, you'll want to consider the number of households, average incomes, nearby clinics and number of doctors, and number of pet-owning families. Of course, there are lots of other considerations, too. Use this list of key issues and features to guide your search—and find the perfect new location for your practice.

Taking an analytical look You want to consider every angle as you look at different sites so you can compare your options critically. Key features to consider include:

1. Site size. When evaluating a site for size suitability, examine the square footage, acreage, length-to-width ratio, frontage, and expansion capability.

2. Image. I'm sure you have a picture in your mind's eye of your finished hospital. Is the neighborhood consistent with this image? Will the surrounding area's current and future development hurt that image or enhance it?

3. Location. For start-up practices, location is especially important. Are there major physical impediments, such as an interstate highway, bridge, railroad, or rapid transit route, or is there a bad neighborhood between your site and a pool of potential clients? Is the site on a major street? For established practices, convenience is more important. Could you give simple driving directions? Could clients get in and out of the parking lot easily?

4. Zoning. The local zoning code will impact your site and its development at several levels. For example, zoning codes restrict site use, parking, landscaping, lot coverage, minimum lot size, signage, setbacks, and building height. Contact your municipal planning department for a map of your lot with zoning information.

5. Visibility. A good site will provide a view of the building and your practice sign from adjacent streets. Consider both daytime and evening visibility.

6. Access. Easy entry and exit from your parking lot will make life easier on you and your clients and provide added incentive to choose your practice. Check right- and left-turn access, curb-cut locations (existing and potential), traffic islands, turn lanes, medians, and other traffic impediments. Also visit the site during busy traffic times to see if nearby traffic control devices cause backups that would inconvenience clients.

7. Topography. Look at the overall lay of the land; check for extreme slopes or depressions that could make development difficult or more expensive. Remember, moving a lot of dirt around is costly. And even a flat site can be difficult if it has no natural drainage for storm water. An architect or civil engineer can provide you with an analysis.

8. Amenities. Existing improvements or natural features can enhance property value. For example, maybe the site has an existing fence, so you won't have to build one. Or maybe the site is landscaped, or the property borders a park system with bike paths, walking areas, or playgrounds. Any of these features enhance the value of the site.

Digging beneath the surface You can't see every issue from the curb, and some site characteristics cause real headaches because they restrict your use of the site. So do some digging and check on these issues. Your diligence lets you go into the deal with the clearest possible understanding of the challenges and costs of developing a particular site.