Developing an undeveloped area of land and transforming it into a building site for a new project is always a huge undertaking. With such a massive variety of factors involved in deciding how to go ahead, this article will look at some important things to consider for commercial land & site development.


First off, there are a host of different reasons for developing land. Do you want to use it to create a new residential area? That will involve plenty of consideration as to the suitability of the site for people to live. Perhaps you are looking to construct a shopping mall, office building or a warehouse for your business. Every type of development comes with its own complications, and there will be different things to consider each time.


Coming up with a site plan

Once you have identified the intended purpose of your land, one of the best places to start is by drawing up a site plan that depicts the land after you have finished developing it. 

You will need to accurately represent the properties and improvements of the surrounding areas:

  • Are there any access roads to the area? All surrounding roads should be highlighted in the site plan.
  • What is the general landscape like? If it is a wooded area with plenty of trees, ensure that this is noticeable in the site plan. Also be sure to take note of any surrounding water, since this will be important when considering flood risk, drainage, and detention.
  • Label the site plan appropriately, including road names and a compass point to show which way the site faces. If you are proposing different buildings, make sure you label these clearly so that people you work with are clear about the intended purpose of the new development.

Here is an example of a site plan:

If you are developing a commercial site, it is also necessary to get a strong idea of the surrounding infrastructure. Where do water and gas get supplied? How is sewage dealt with? If the commercial contractors and engineers have a better understanding of the basic infrastructure and resource supplies, they are more likely to complete the job on time and within the expected budget.


When reviewed, site plans are generally scrutinized using the following criteria:

  •  Floodplain management. Are there any floodplain areas nearby? Commercial areas expel large amounts of water.
  • Subdivision compliance. This means that your development must follow the basic rules and regulations. Hiring a general contractor to help you manage this process is going to make it more manageable.
  • Traffic management. It is important to note how traffic is going to flow towards and away from your proposed site. Also, consider parking and how many spaces will be needed in your development.
  • General engineering design. Before submitting any applications, it makes sense to get a solid idea of other engineering works you will need such as street lighting, sidewalks, sewer covers etc. These types of items are typically referred to as the “sitework” required.

Other things to consider when developing land

 Aside from the need to come up with a detailed site plan, there are some other factors to think about before you begin drawing up your ideas.


What is the land-to-building ratio? This is not such an important factor in residential developments, but more so for commercial ones. When planning your property, you do not want land to be wasted. You can calculate your land-to-building ratio by dividing the square footage of the total land parcel by the square footage of the building. Commercial investors may want to pay particular attention to this in order to maximize their investment opportunity.


Take an example:

200,000 square feet of land divided by 60,000 square feet of building means that this particular building has a ratio of 3.33:1. This is on the higher end of the average, but would not be a cause for concern over wasted land if you were applying to build a shopping mall, for example.

  • Consider detention space. Will your site be located somewhere with frequent storms? You will likely need a solution to account for the chance of excessive stormwater. Surface ponds are a cheaper option, but underground detention vaults are a very effective solution for containing wastewater upon heavy rainfalls. You will need to consult with local city municipal or county requirements with regard to detention.
  • Will you be affected by trees? Understand that your site may be affected if you are building close to any open spaces, or areas rich with trees and vegetation. In all likelihood, trees will require replacing. If that is not possible you will need to account for the costs of clearing and grading the land.


This has been a very quick guide to some of the basics to consider when planning to develop a new site. Environmental factors are top of the list, with flooding and draining always making up a big consideration. Next come human factors – how can you develop this site for maximum usability? Will you build something close to large populations of people for easy access, or somewhere more remote where costs could be lower?

Check out another recent post for 10 Rules to Successful land development and design.

Jack Vale is a writer for Fed Steel, a major steel pipe distributor.