What is the Alcorn Entitlement Strategy?

What is the Alcorn Entitlement Strategy?

July 2, 2024
July 2, 2024
Blog Posts
Jeanne Shaffer
Jeanne Shaffer

The entitlement process is often described as difficult, obscure, ambiguous, enigmatic, and an always moving finish line. Any seasoned entitlement professional would agree with all these descriptions and is adept at creating calm out of the chaos.  

The objective of all development projects is to maximize certainty and minimize risk throughout the entitlement process. This facilitates a faster progression through entitlements, benefiting all parties involved by expediting the project toward the start of construction.

The Alcorn Entitlement Strategy:

Entitlement Professional

  • Utilize an entitlement professional who is specifically trained and experienced in land use entitlements. As Alcorn's Director of Land Use Entitlements, I have more than 18 years of expertise in navigating the entitlement process, both in the public sector and as a consultant for developers. Frequently, we observe that management of the entitlement process becomes a secondary task for the development team rather than a primary focus that should be given the same attention as architectural and civil design tasks. Often, a member of the development team takes on the task of managing the entitlement process while also focusing on their primary task as the project architect, civil engineer, construction manager, real estate development manager, or the developer themselves. With entitlements not their primary focus, these roles can have limited entitlement experience and limited time to dedicate to managing the entitlement process. A dedicated entitlement professional managing the process can alleviate pressure on the rest of the development team and adeptly navigate the complexities of the entitlement process as their primary responsibility. This ensures a smoother entitlement process, allowing the development and design team to concentrate on their core responsibilities.

Quality Team Assembly

  • The quality of the development and design team is crucial to the efficient and timely review of entitlement processes. Never underestimate the impact that a high-quality plan set, and well-prepared submittal documents can have on a project. Such preparation can expedite the review process and reduce the number of review cycles needed to complete entitlements. It is essential that the project civil engineer has direct and recent experience in the relevant jurisdiction.

Minimize Risk & Create Certainty  

  • Provide a due diligence checklist tailored specifically to the developer’s needs and a timeline for structuring their deal. Identify other consultants needed to evaluate the project during due diligence.
    • Conducting a preliminary entitlement assessment or preparing a preliminary site investigation report before execution of a purchase and sale agreement is often the most impactful step for a project's success. However, this crucial step is frequently not given the appropriate time or attention. A preliminary site investigation report focused on entitlements will address existing zoning and allowed uses, site design standards (setbacks, parking, lot coverage, building height), and other limitations such as water, sewer, drainage, floodplain, and environmental issues. It will also identify the necessary entitlement processes and provide a general timeframe for their completion. This information enables the development team to create concept site plans to determine the project's feasibility. The report also allows room for negotiations on timeframes, commitment of funds, and purchase price in the purchase and sale agreement. Additionally, it often identifies risks that could outweigh the potential benefits, allowing developers to avoid unsuitable sites and save considerable time in prematurely pursuing the entitlement processes and sunk design costs.
    • If the preliminary site investigation report and concept plan indicate development potential, the developer will execute an LOI (Letter of Intent) or PSA (Personal Service Agreement) which should include a formal 60-day due diligence period. During this period, a title commitment, survey, environmental assessment, and soil report are acquired to further evaluate the site. A pre-application meeting with the jurisdiction is also held during this time.
    • These steps significantly mitigate risk and add certainty to a project while minimizing pursuit costs. Completing due diligence as described above helps streamline the entitlement process moving forward, avoiding impacts to the development timeline and surprises that could lead to major redesign of the site or building.

Jurisdictional Knowledge

  • Jurisdictional knowledge is acquired through the due diligence and site investigation process. This information is key for understanding any use or design limitations on a property and assessing the feasibility or likelihood of modifying those requirements to accommodate the development.

Political and Community Risk Identification

  • Understanding political and community risks is an integral part of the due diligence and site investigation process. It is essential to determine whether there is political support or opposition for a particular type of development and to be aware of the surrounding community's stance and any potential challenges from neighbors or neighborhood associations.

Entitlement Process Facilitation & Management

  • The entitlement professional acts as the "project manager" of the entitlement process. They ensure all stakeholders are involved and informed, deliverables are provided, deadlines are met, and everyone's needs are addressed. When we refer to "stakeholders" in the entitlement process, it includes but is not limited to:
    • Developer / Property Owner
    • Architect
    • Civil Engineer
    • Landscape Architect
    • General Contractor
    • Jurisdictional planning staff and economic development staff
    • Other jurisdictional staff (engineering, traffic, public works, utilities, etc.)
    • Elected officials
    • Community members and neighbors
  • Weekly meetings with the design and development teams are essential to coordinate design progression, address issues between design consultants, prepare submittals, respond to feedback, and manage other related development matters.
  • Create and manage the entitlement timeline, ensuring the development team meets deadlines, and monitor the jurisdiction review process status to ensure the reviews are occurring as expected.
  • We represent the project as if we are the developer, advocating for the project's needs while balancing jurisdictional requirements to find mutually acceptable solutions. We respectfully question authority, recognizing that blindly accepting all the jurisdiction's directions and requirements is a mistake. It is the entitlement professional and development team's responsibility to advocate for the project.

If you would like to learn more about entitlement, read my other blogs.

Ready to take the first step on your next project? If you need assistance getting it going through the entitlement process, please reach out to Alcorn to help guide you through the process with our entitlement services.

Jeanne Shaffer

Director of Land Use Entitlements