We submitted our application to Bloomfield Township to split our 3 acre site into 4 parcels on July 17. It looks like this: While this seems pretty simple, a lot of work has gone into it. We should be getting feedback from Bloomfield Township pretty soon and at some point in the coming weeks we will have to attend a public hearing in front of the Township Board and they will vote whether to approve our plan. You may wonder why this is so regulated and time consuming. Keep in mind, this is about as simple a form of development as there is and it is still highly technical and complex!
So let’s digress for a little bit. Try and stay with me…
Land development is a whole different animal from home building. Historically, there have been mostly pure builders and there have been pure developers and some, like me, that have done both. This is probably because these two activities require very different skill sets. My dad and uncle were always pure builders – they bought finished lots with paved streets, sewer and water and gas and electric installed from developers and built and sold homes.
The developers they bought lots from would purchase vacant tracts of land in mostly suburban communities that had access to a paved road, sewer, water and other utilities and then apply to the city or township for permission to divide the land into parcels we call lots. Sometimes the land needed to be rezoned to allow the desired development or there would be issues with low swampy areas or large stands of trees. These needed to be identified by surveyors and engineers and the lots designed to minimize the impact on these resources. Developers need to have a vision for what the land will look like and how to best use what nature has provided to create an environment that people will want to live in. If they do this well, the builders will buy their lots and the customers will buy the homes the builders build.
Over the years development moved from the cities to the suburbs. In the cities the norm was to create a pattern of grid streets serving small lots with no trees or swampy areas (cut the trees and strip out the swamps and put nice sandy soil where the muck used to be). A park for recreation here and there and planting new trees along the new streets was the order of the day. Many developers tried to carry this same format to the suburbs and would seek out flat, fallow farmlands that suited this style. There being a limited supply of this, the next best thing became the clear cutting and flattening (called mass grading) of rolling parcels that were not suitable for farming or pasture.
An interesting thing happened on the way to the suburbs. The folks living in new suburban homes on the grid lots that were adjacent to these treed, rolling parcels kind of liked them and thought of them as an extension of their yards. They really did not like the idea of new lots and homes going there, ever. So these folks would go to meetings in the townships and cities and protest development proposals even if the property was zoned for development. The protests would revolve around various assertions that these new developments would cause environmental harm or just plain harm the environment. Cutting trees was bad in and of itself, filling swamps (now called wetlands) leveling hills or altering drainage patterns was an offense against nature. If this was going to happen somewhere, these folks would say, “Not In My Back Yard!” or NIMBY.
So the development process changed and required even more expertise and better planning and engineering and a lot more oversight by townships, villages and cities to assure the NIMBYs that if development was going to occur at all it would be done responsibly. One can take various political, moral or ethical positions on this subject but the developer simply needed to recognize that the playing field and the rules of the game had changed and then learn to deal with the new rules. Builders have similar challenges that they have to learn to deal with.
What is indisputable is that regulation and compliance in both development and building costs more than doing these activities unregulated. Is the result really better, or so much better it is worth the extra cost? As these costs rise, more people are excluded from the market or have to settle for a smaller lot or smaller, less fully featured home. These are questions that are a lot bigger and more complex than this blog.
At 565 Long Lake Road we will deal with the hand we have been dealt. We are on the front line of experiencing the effects of this increased regulation and oversight as issues arise nearly every day. Mostly, we just comply and add up the cost of compliance and roll it in to the cost of the lot or the home. And so it goes.
Well, thanks for listening. Hopefully, this discussion will help lend some perspective to future blogs when the expletives start flying…just kidding about the expletives part.