The process to entitle lots can take more than five years and is expensive. The cost of parcel maps for five lots or less is $100,000. Tract maps for more than five lots can cost more than $500,000. The number of lots and the potential size are determined by biology, health-department regulations, slope, and the zoning and general plan. Included in the cost are engineering, processing, and regulatory fees and various reports and studies.
Reports and studies include conditions of approval costs, storm-water treatment, anthropology and archeology, soils, biology, noise, and traffic. When a map is approved and recorded, there are additional fees that include, but are not limited to the following:
• Potential greenhouse gas studies
• Retention and drainage basins
• On- and off-site mitigation land
• School fees
• Parks and recreation fees
• Physical secondary access
• Fire fees
• Annual bonding fees.
Politics comes into play when obtaining the required approvals from county boards, city councils, and planning commissions. The level of public opposition or support affects hearings completion. They can be completed in as little as four months, or take years and cost over a million dollars. Property owners have three courses of action to take into consideration.
1. Entitlement and sale of the property ‘as is' – This option brings the lowest price, but costs the least and requires the shortest time for property disposal. Under rare circumstances, the land is worth more when it is unentitled.
2. Enter into a long-term agreement – The agreement is made with a home builder who incurs the expenses of processing a tract map. This option is the most utilized. The process could take up to five years. The buyer is required to release nonrefundable deposits periodically to the seller after approving their contingencies. Escrow closing typically occurs after tentative or final map approval.
3. The owner incurs the entitlement costs – Much of the process is like option two. The difference is the owner has full control of the mapping process and bears all expenses.
The ramifications of each choice should be weighed carefully before making a decision. Owners, who have chosen not to seek advice, have made the decision to process a map and found out later the number of lots was not financially feasible. A competent engineer can determine the optimal number of lots that can be obtained and approved. Smart growth design principals call for buildings with a variety of materials, texture, and color and individuality; well-defined open space; a building and street relationship; mixed uses; and high-density development. Contractors, who specialize in residential subdivisions, can give realistic cost estimations.
The process of entitling residential property to higher densities is costly, complex, and cumbersome. Many factors must be taken into consideration. The leading concerns that communities have about increased density are the quality of life and increased costs.
There is a need for new affordable housing to reduce recent overpayment and overcrowding. There is also a need for high-density housing that supports economic recovery, accommodates new workers and their loved ones, and economizes the costs of infrastructure. It is quite a balancing act. Open spaces need to be conserved and the distance between new jobs and new homes reduced.