What is a Site Plan for Commercial Real Estate?

CEO Khai Intela
In the realm of commercial real estate, a site plan plays a crucial role in property development. For a novice, the terminology might seem intimidating, but understanding the concept of a site plan is actually...

In the realm of commercial real estate, a site plan plays a crucial role in property development. For a novice, the terminology might seem intimidating, but understanding the concept of a site plan is actually fairly simple. In this article, we'll walk you through what a site plan is, why it's needed, and how to know what should be included based on local municipality requirements.

What is a Site Plan?

What is a Site Plan for Commercial Real Estate? What is a Site Plan for Commercial Real Estate?

According to Pickett Sprouse Broker Emilee Collins, CCIM a site plan is a scale drawing or diagram that is used to understand proposed plans for a commercial or residential project. It's created by architects and developers usually through specialized site plan software and shows the entire property meticulously designed and planned. The purpose of a site plan is to show a clear and comprehensive view of the development.

Why is a Site Plan Needed?

Property owners and developers need a site plan for several reasons. Emilee explains what some of these are.

Helps developers understand what can fit on a parcel.

A site plan offers a comprehensive view of the property and is an essential tool for the planning and development process. From understanding the layout of the plot to planning the landscape features, a site plan serves as a guide. It helps in visualizing the overall design objectives, understanding the spatial relationships between elements, and ensuring efficient utilization of available space. A site plan also helps to ensure that the project is in harmony with the surrounding environment.

Helpful for marketing purposes.

If the intention is to sell the property, owners can use the site plan to clearly showcase its layout, design, and features. This can be particularly beneficial when marketing and advertising the property because prospective buyers can easily visualize its potential and understand its value. The site plan can effectively showcase the property's location, nearby amenities, access points, and other important features. This helps attract potential buyers and can increase the chances of a successful sale. Additionally, site plans can be used in promotional materials such as brochures, websites, or advertisements to effectively communicate the property's unique selling points and features to a wider audience.

Required as part of municipal review process.

Most municipalities require a detailed site plan before a plot of land can be developed. This is so they can understand the project's impact on the area around it and consider it for approval. Some of the potential impacts that are considered are how a project will affect traffic, the environment, and community aesthetics. Having a site plan also ensures that the proposed development adheres to all state and local building codes. Once the site plan is reviewed and approved, it becomes a legally binding document that guides the implementation and construction of the proposed development project.

Practical tool for construction process.

A site plan is also a practical tool to use on a construction site. It provides crucial information and guidance about the layout and organization of the site. A site plan typically includes details such as the location of buildings, roads, parking areas, utilities, and other important features. It helps in visualizing the overall design objectives, understanding the spatial relationships between elements, and ensuring efficient utilization of available space. Site plans also help in coordinating various activities and resources on the building site. This helps to improve safety and facilitate effective communication among the construction team. It also helps contractors know how to plan for the placement of equipment, the flow of construction work, and how materials can be stored.

What Makes a Good Site Plan?

The level of detail about elements of a site plan may be significant depending on its purpose. Emilee points out that "if the plan is being presented to a municipality for approval, it’s important to provide the detail that they are looking for by researching the UDO Unified Development Ordinance and/or restrictive covenants that apply to the property." Most site plans will include the following.

  1. Property lines
  2. Building size
  3. Required parking ratios
  4. Existing stream buffers and other buffer requirements
  5. Location of existing and proposed building structures
  6. Landscape features and layout
  7. Accessibility for those with disabilities
  8. Easements
  9. Driveways
  10. Stormwater mitigation systems
  11. Access points to the property

When is a Site Plan Needed?

According to Emilee, site plans are usually required for any commercial projects that cover new ground or alter the features of a site. While this is the case for most municipalities, you will need to check with your town or city's planning department to find out about their specific requirements and to learn about their site plan review process.

Here's a look at some of the most common situations when a site plan may be needed.

  • Construction or development projects. A site plan is essential for new construction projects, whether residential or commercial. It helps to outline the placement and layout of buildings, parking areas, driveways, landscaping, and other site features.
  • Zoning and land-use regulations. Municipalities may require a site plan as part of the permitting or approval process for land development. It helps to ensure that the proposed project complies with the specific zoning regulations and land-use requirements of the area.
  • Rezoning applications. If you're trying to change the zoning classification of a certain land parcel, a site plan is often required to demonstrate how the proposed change would affect the site and surrounding environment.
  • Property sales or transfers. A site plan is commonly requested during property sales or transfers to provide potential buyers with a visual representation of the property's boundaries, existing structures, and surrounding features.
  • Building permits. In many municipalities, a site plan is necessary when applying for a building permit. It allows building officials to review the proposed construction, assess its impact on the site, and ensure compliance with building codes, setback requirements, and other regulations.
  • Landscape design and planning. Landscape architects often create site plans to visualize and guide the design of outdoor spaces, including gardens, parks, and commercial landscapes.

Site Plan vs Floor Plan

A term that is often used in conjunction with a site plan is a floor plan. While they may seem similar, there are big differences between a site plan and a floor plan, and they serve very different purposes. A site plan provides an overview of a property. It shows the location of buildings, driveways, parking lots, landscaping elements, and other features on the site. Site plans are typically drawn to scale and show the relationship between buildings and other site features. They are commonly used in the initial design stages of a project to determine the best placement of buildings and to understand how the site will be used.

On the other hand, a floor plan is a detailed layout of a single level of a building, such as a house or an apartment. It shows the arrangement of rooms, walls, doors, windows, and other features within the building. Floor plans usually provide measurements and dimensions for each room and area and are commonly used in construction and real estate to understand the layout and functionality of a space.

Bottom Line on Site Plans

The bottom line on site plans is that they are an integral part of any commercial real estate development. Much more than just a drawing, this comprehensive tool helps architects, developers, and contractors in the successful execution of a project, ensuring that all building or development complies with building codes and regulations.

How to ask us a question

Our brokers and other partnering commercial real estate experts will be answering your questions every month through the Ask a Broker series. If you have a commercial real estate question that you want to be answered, we’d love to hear from you at [email protected].