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The Real Estate Entitlement Process: A Complete Checklist

How To Successfully Navigate The Real Estate Entitlement Process In Denver

Denver is one of the few cities in the country that has adopted a form-based code for its zoning regulations. Such zoning regulations provide more flexibility to developers and help prevent some of the common drawbacks of traditional zoning laws. Any development plans will require you to obtain government approval in Denver. The process for gaining approval of your development plan is known as the “entitlement process.” Getting the entitlements you need can be complicated.

Obtaining entitlements is a complex process that requires a thorough knowledge of zoning laws, building codes, regulations, and state, local, and city infrastructure. Leveraging the expertise of a third-party consultant can prove to be invaluable for this reason.

What Are Real Estate Entitlements?

Based on the zone you’re developing in, there are numerous regulations by which you must abide. For instance, zoning laws may indicate that your construction can’t exceed a certain height. The local government will review your development plan to ensure it abides by all of the regulations governing your site. If your plans are approved, you will receive the entitlement you need to proceed. Essentially, a real estate entitlement is the contract between the landowner and the local government. Your development plan will need to include the following:

  1. Function: The development proposal must include an overview of the development’s use; that is, the function of the structure for which the developer wishes to be “entitled” to build on the parcel of land.
  2. Density: Building Density, also expressed as Floor Space Ratio or FSR, is the relationship between the floor area of a structure and the area of the parcel of land upon which the building is located.
  3. Architecture: The building’s design must fit within the confines of zoning and building codes.
  4. Setback Requirements: Setback requirements dictate the space required between a structure and other infrastructures, such as roads and sidewalks, or environmental elements, such as rivers and streams.

Without an understanding of local zoning regulations, your plan may violate specific rules governing your site. If this occurs, your plan will not be approved, and you won’t receive the real estate entitlement you need. This is why it’s a good idea to work with someone familiar with Denver’s zoning code. If you choose to proceed with development without obtaining the necessary entitlements, you’ll likely be fined and could be forced to halt construction completely. It’s also worth noting that entitlements may have to be obtained from more than just one government body, depending on what your development plans entail.

Planning Ahead to Ensure a Successful Entitlement Process

Obtaining the entitlements you need can be a complicated and lengthy process. The longer it takes, the more expensive it can be, especially if it results in construction delays. The best way to ensure that the entitlement process goes smoothly is by planning properly. With that in mind, the following are the steps you should take when planning ahead for real estate entitlements:

Hire the Right People

You should work closely with consultants and third parties who are well-versed in the entitlement process, such as land-use attorneys, environmental specialists, and engineering teams/architects. Having the right team can make your project run more smoothly.

Create a Detailed Timeline

Create a detailed schedule with flexibility built in to see the overall picture of your development project, start to finish. Measure your milestones and deliverables against this timeline to keep your project on track.

Identify All Costs

All costs related to obtaining the entitlements you need should be included in your plan from the beginning, including the costs associated with possible setbacks and delays. Local planning departments and land-use attorneys should provide a cost estimate based on your project[KB1] [AH2] ’scope.

Identify Potential Obstacles That Will Require Exceptions

Analyze all possible obstacles that could cause delays and plan for ways to mitigate them. Such obstacles can include environmental risks that may delay the project, or exceptions, such as political and agency disapproval of your plans.

Steps You Need to Take to Obtain Entitlements Successfully

 Once you’ve planned for the entitlement process, you’ll need to take several steps to complete the process itself. There are three major types of submissions that you will need to prepare:

  1. Strategic Land Proposal
  2. Design Plans
  3. Documents from Third-Party Economic, Environmental, and Technical Analysis Agencies

All plans and proposals you’ve prepared need to be formally reviewed by the appropriate Developmental Review boards or local government divisions. Such a review will determine if the plan aligns with Denver’s zoning codes and building regulations.

Analytical reports indicating how your construction will impact the community, environment, and economy will also need to be reviewed. Factors such as elevations, landscaping, and land sites will all be taken into account. Finally, you will require design approval and approval from the local city boards. Only then will you receive the requested entitlement.

Evaluate Zoning Ordinances and Local Regulations

You must take Denver’s Zoning Code into account before embarking on an infill development project. Evaluating such ordinances and ensuring compliance within your development proposal is key to obtaining an entitlement. Entitlements are issued based on compliance with state and federal statutes, including:

  • Wetland Acts: A group of laws passed to protect, preserve, and conserve wetlands in the U.S.
  • Zoning Laws: Rules that regulate the types of industrial, commercial, or residential structures that you can build on specific parcels of land.
  • Local Regulations: Laws that regulate and stipulate exactly how such structures can be used.

Request Changes or Variances

During your review period, you may need to adjust your project to comply with zoning laws and building regulations.

Obtain Neighborhood Approval

While certain legislative bodies must approve your construction project, you must also obtain approval from local communities. Remember that your infill development project may be planned in vacant or underused parcels of land within existing infrastructures and neighborhoods. These communities might not agree with the overall project goal or model. Additionally, residents or community leaders may disapprove of the noise, environmental impact, and the construction project’s schedule. Their decision to approve or disapprove of your project often occurs during an open-hearing or neighborhood meeting and can delay a project considerably. Thus, you must obtain both state and local approval to secure a real estate entitlement.

Obtain Project Approval

Obtaining project approval from the appropriate legislative bodies is necessary to build on entitled land. Project approval is a process that includes submitting a variety of documents to a Planning Department during a meeting that allows the legislative body to review and approve or disapprove your project plans. These documents should include:

  • Landscape Plans: Architectural designs that include detailed drawings of the proposed structure.
  • Site Plan: A site plan is a set of engineering-based drawings that can show a planning department division exactly how the proposed property will look and how it can improve the surrounding environment.
  • Elevations: Site plan elevations include orthographic projection drawings that reveal the proposed structure’s scale and exterior, along with its dimensions.
  • Design: The overall architectural design should clearly show a detailed overview of the proposed construction.

Appealing if Project is Rejected

If local and state legislative government bodies do not approve your development project’s proposals and plans, appealing to the City Council is an option that can put your project back on track.

Obtain Approval for Demolition and Building Permits

Infill development and redevelopment projects sometimes require upgrading, remediating, or altering existing infrastructure to match newer structures. However, obtaining an entitlement is only one aspect of a development project in Denver. Another crucial requirement is a permit. While there are various permits that you may need, the most important is the building permit. A building permit allows the developer to build a structure according to clearly defined standards. If your project calls for the demolition of existing structures or components, you will need a demolition permit for this as well.

Get Design Approval After Project Has Been Approved

Once your project proposal has been approved, the building’s design must be approved to obtain a master permit. To secure a master permit, you will need to send your architect’s plans to the required local legislative bodies for approval. These plans should include both the building design and the plans for the surrounding landscape.

Entitlement Process Risks to Be Aware Of

When planning your entitlement process, it’s essential to be aware of some of the common pitfalls and risks that can delay or derail your construction project. Such risks typically revolve around four core aspects:

  • Funds and Resources: Money is always a key factor when it comes to large-scale construction projects. The ever-changing nature of construction regulations could mean that you may need more resources than initially expected to complete your project.
  • External Agencies and Government Bodies: Governmental bodies have a significant impact on whether your project succeeds or not due to the stipulations and laws that govern infill development projects in urban environments.
  • Local Communities: Local councils have the power to delay or stop your infill development project if they disapprove of the overall project model.
  • Environmental Challenges: Your project could be delayed if analysis reveals that your project may result in issues with air quality, transportation, noise, mold, wind, and more.

Project Impact on Local Population and Environment

No legislative body will approve your project if it will negatively impact the local population or environment; thus, you need to analyze how your development will impact the residents and the environment before creating and submitting a project proposal for approval.

Must Obtain Approval From Many Different Agencies

Municipal and state legislative bodies require extensive analyses from proven agencies to sign off on your construction proposals. These studies ensure that your project will not harm the environment, community, economy, or local infrastructure systems.

New Legislation Can Hinder Project Development

New legislation on the state or federal level can significantly impact an already-planned project associated with infill development. Such legislation can include new laws regulating wetlands, building codes, zoning regulations, or even changes to setback requirements. All such changes can delay your project, which can cost money and time.

Local Politics Can Influence Project Approval

Local communities’ politics can influence your project’s success since local councils must approve your project to green-light local construction. As a result, even if every phase of your entitlement process is a success, you can still experience delays due to local councils not agreeing with the endeavor.

Fully Understanding The Entitlement Process Is Essential To Your Real Estate Project’s Success

Many complicated factors come into play when it comes to obtaining a real estate entitlement. The process requires numerous steps; if any one of those steps fails, it could delay or stop your project. To this end, your team must understand every facet of the entitlement process. Hiring an experienced team devoted to obtaining entitlements will go a long way towards overcoming potential roadblocks and completing your development project. 

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