Conducting a Site Evaluation for Commercial Building Construction

When planning a commercial construction project, it’s easy to get caught up in the building design, architectural features, floor plans, finishes and other elements that make for a stand-out structure on the property. But long before you plan a groundbreaking ceremony, you need to ensure that the site is a suitable location.

Proper site selection is literally the foundation of any successful building project. Get that wrong during the pre-construction phase and the entire project could be compromised, leading to delays, safety issues, additional expenses and lots of headaches. 

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Consider the following key areas when conducting a site investigation for your building project.

Property Size

The first consideration seems an obvious one. Will a structure physically fit on the site where you want to build? It’s not always as straightforward as ensuring that the real estate accommodates the footprint of your building plan. You also need to consider:

  • How much parking space will you need for employees and visitors, now and in the future?
  • Will you need retention ponds for runoff from rooftops or hard surface areas?
  • Is additional space needed for loading docks, turnarounds, freight vehicles, multiple entry points, trash enclosures, snow removal/piles, etc.? 
  • How much landscaping do you want (foundation plantings, walking trails, etc.)?
  • Can the site accommodate a building expansion for future growth?

Many project owners underestimate the amount of land they’ll need to accommodate their building project, so make sure you consider all your current and future needs.

Environmental Elements 

Environmental conditions on a site can vary widely and impact whether it’s suitable for your project, or whether it may add sizable costs and delays. Beyond ensuring there’s adequate acreage, project owners need to find answers to the following questions: 

  • Is the soil composition soft and loamy, or is there a shallow layer of bedrock that may require geological experts and explosives during excavation?
  • Is the site in a flood zone?
  • Are there protected wetlands, streams, vernal ponds or other waterways on site or nearby?
  • Are there protected animal species in the area?
  • Will steep terrain result in excessive erosion and stormwater runoff?
  • Is there ancient or historical significance associated with the site?
  • Are there contaminants that will need remediation?

Conducting a comprehensive environmental assessment of your proposed building site will help you avoid major issues and remain in compliance with EPA standards and other regulations.  


If your building site is in the middle of an old farm field or you’ll be the first to break ground in an area, you’ll likely have to foot the bill for installing many of these necessities. Even if you plan to build in an area that is already developed, utilities may be easily accessible but may require upgrades to accommodate increased use. Evaluate the feasibility of the following:

  • Will municipal water and sewer be available?
  • For large buildings, how far is the nearest substation, and what are the costs of running electrical power to the facility?
  • Is supplemental solar or wind power a consideration?
  • Are natural gas lines needed for heating and cooling?
  • Who are the telecom providers in the area and what will it take to get phone lines installed?
  • Are there DSL lines or other ways to access high-speed internet?

The modern workplace depends on technology and a reliable utility grid, and the level of accessibility can be a major factor in a site’s practicality. 

Road & Transportation Access

Depending on the size of your workforce and customer base, accessibility from roadways may be a major sticking point. 

  • How much more traffic volume will be added?
  • Does your business require visibility from the roadway?
  • Does it need to be easily accessible from major highways, airports, railways, etc.?
  • Will traffic lights, speed bumps, turning lanes, roundabouts, service roads or other transportation safety features need to be installed?
  • Is the site located on a state highway, county trunk, or town road (denoting which governing authorities need to be consulted)?
  • If in a winter zone, what are the plowing arrangements?
  • Are there any limits to roads, bridges, and truck routes that could be problematic for your business?

Local governments and the state divide responsibilities for roadways, so determining who has jurisdiction for your proposed site is a first step in understanding potential transportation needs.

Zoning & Regulations

State and local agencies determine the zoning requirements for land use, but they can dictate much more than whether a property is suitable for commercial, industrial, residential or agricultural use.

  • Are there zoning requirements or building codes regarding aesthetics, building materials, height limitations, setbacks, green space, etc., for the district?
  • Are there noise ordinances that may interfere with your desired operations?
  • What commercial activities are allowed or limited?
  • Are there any exaction clauses, requiring the property owner to give back to the community in order to obtain approval?

Every property under consideration will have some form of associated zoning regulations and, as you can see, the breadth of those requirements can vary widely from district, city, and county.


If your organization wants to expand into a new territory or needs community buy-in, you’ll want to improve your chances of success by covering the following areas. 

  • For public projects, will a referendum need to be passed in order to build?
  • If you rely on local traffic, are there enough potential target customers in the area?
  • Is the employment rate conducive to obtaining the number of workers you need?
  • Do area educational facilities provide industry-specific courses conducive to internships, apprenticeships or future employees? (trade schools, technical colleges, etc.)
  • Is the area’s economy strong, or could your company be a catalyst for further economic growth?
  • Are there potential tax incentives for building in the area?

This type of data, though not about the physical landscape, is a key consideration during the site selection process.

Cover All the Bases Before You Break Ground

Working with an experienced commercial general contractor that specializes in pre-construction planning and/or design-build can help you select the right location and ensure that nothing gets overlooked. Minimizing surprises and unexpected issues prior to breaking ground will help your project remain on time and on budget.

Contact the construction experts at The Samuels Group today to talk through even more considerations for conducting a site assessment. For additional insights into the design/construction process and choosing the right contractor, check out our helpful guide below.

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