What is a Zoning Analysis? (And Why Do You Need One?)
Situate is an urban planning consulting firm specializing in rezoning, permit and subdivision coordination services for awesome infill projects. In our How To articles we dissect the ins and outs of navigating permits and approvals.
You’re in the early stage of a new development project: you’ve got a vision, you have interest from investors, you feel confident about the market, and you’re ready to get started on the preliminary design.
Ah, but not so fast.
Coming up with a concept and getting started on a design, is, undeniably, the more exciting aspect of property development. We don’t dispute that. But sometimes the most exciting designs and innovative ideas are missing key elements—namely, a thorough understanding of how the City’s land use policies, plans and zoning regulations will impact your redevelopment options (for better, or, often—for worse).
This is where a comprehensive Zoning Analysis comes in (and can make all the difference).
WHAT IS A ZONING ANALYSIS?
A Zoning Analysis is a formal, expertly-researched report that examines the land use and zoning feasibility of your proposed project on your specific site, explaining everything in plain language, in both words and drawings. It proactively identifies barriers or potential risks to the project in terms of development compliance (such as potential variances to Zoning Bylaw regulations), so that you can make informed decisions and aren’t caught off guard later on.
WHAT PRECISELY DOES A ZONING ANALYSIS COVER?
The exact items a Zoning Analysis covers will vary based on what you want to know. Typically people approach the Zoning Analysis in one of two ways. In the first approach, you have an idea of what you want to do on the site—the Zoning Analysis assesses that idea in detail to determine the land use feasibility and identify any potential barriers. In the second approach, you’re not yet sure what you want to do on the site, so the Zoning Analysis assesses redevelopment options with a focus on the highest and best use.
In either case, the Zoning Analysis includes some or all of the following information:
- Site context and existing conditions of the property
- Applicable policies and guidelines, and how they will be used to inform the City’s decision-making
- Zoning bylaw regulations, including what’s achievable on the site under the current zone, and what could be achievable if the site was rezoned to an alternate standard zone or custom direct control zone
- How zoning regulations like minimum setbacks, maximum height, maximum Floor Area Ratio apply to your site, and how much density you will be able to achieve
- Potential variances and how to avoid or justify them
- Potential site plan scenarios and building massing models
- A comparative analysis of recently approved nearby development
- Potential environmental constraints
- Potential utility constraints
- Heritage designations
- Available grant opportunities
- A summary of potential redevelopment and/or rezoning options, together with an estimated timeline and required permits and/or approvals
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A ZONING ANALYSIS?
There are several reasons to invest in a well-executed Zoning Analysis. Below are a few of the most compelling.
1. Improved Accuracy of your Financial Pro Forma
Your project pro forma can quickly break down if you aren’t accurately accounting for the fees and risks that come along with the land use development process. Actual costs can vary significantly from estimated costs if you fail to account for timelines, fees, design regulations, infrastructure requirements and much more.
On the other hand, a Zoning Analysis can help you identify development opportunities that you may not have been aware of, and introduce you to grants and other funding tools that could be really useful for you.
2. Clear Strategy (Quicker Approvals, Less Rework)
A Zoning Analysis at the start of a project helps identify and address issues early on. Time and time again we have seen clients commission a design and become emotionally attached to a concept that, later on, was found to be very challenging (if not impossible) to get approved or achieve development compliance. We see this happen at all scales of development, from backyard garden suites to high rise apartments.
Finding out that your project won’t get approved—after you’ve spent a whole bunch of time, effort and money on designing it—is understandably very frustrating. But frankly, it’s really not necessary, and a Zoning Analysis can help you avoid it by providing a clear strategy and framework for the future design.
3. Advanced Awareness of Policy Changes and Bylaw Amendments
Land use policy and regulation is constantly evolving, and there could be changes coming that might impact your project. The sooner you know about those changes, the higher the likelihood that you can either benefit from them, or mitigate their impact.
As infill-focused urban planning consultants, we’ve got our hands in the City’s policy and regulations constantly, so we know what changes might be coming down the line and when. We’ll tell you what you need to know to future-proof your project.
WHO SHOULD YOU HIRE TO DO YOUR ZONING ANALYSIS?
If we’ve convinced you that a Zoning Analysis is the best way to start your real estate development project, our work here is done.
If you’re curious about who you should hire to do a Zoning Analysis for you, read on—we’ve got a few more thoughts to share.
You might be wondering: is this something your architect or designer can handle? Should you work with a separate consulting firm? Have your engineers complete it?
The key here is to focus on who can offer you the most specialized and highly-knowledgeable service, especially if you’re dealing with infill development, which is famous for throwing curve-balls.
Some engineering and architectural firms may do a zoning analysis as a component of their service offerings—but it is rarely their main area of expertise. Architects design buildings and engineers design infrastructure—their core service is not analyzing City policy and regulation. Since the vast majority of these professionals’ time and energy is devoted to providing their core services, they may not be able to dedicate the time, energy and expertise that a boutique urban planning consulting firm could.
WE CAN HELP
At Situate, our urban planning consultants specialize in municipal rezoning, subdivision, and development permit coordination for awesome infill projects. In fact, we live, eat, and breathe infill—it’s our company’s core focus. Needless to say, we’re immersed in zoning bylaws day-in and day-out, searching for and identifying the best policy and regulatory solutions for our clients.
When you trust us with your Zoning Analysis, you’re trusting a seasoned team that possesses the hyper-focused skill set you’ll need to maximize the development potential of your site. Plus, we prioritize your peace of mind. We’re here to answer your questions, handle the hard stuff, and advocate on your behalf.
This article was written by Situate, Edmonton’s urban planning consulting firm specializing in rezoning, permit and subdivision coordination services for awesome infill projects. Contact us to find out more about the Zoning Analysis and other services that we provide.