Master Plan, Master Planning, and Master Developer

Our company has substantial experience working with developers, business owners, and stakeholders in residential, multi-family townhome and condominiums, retail, and office development and/or operations; in addition to our core focus, senior living and senior housing. As developers who have identified dozens of sites of varying sizes and uses and been through approval processes to deliver entitled sites to stakeholders and users, we have come to be astute developers, if not a qualified Master Developer under the definition of some.

We have learned several things that are critical to master planning (MA) a development of substance. To me, substance is relative to the number of uses; the size of the project; the phased development of the project and related approach; the market analysis for each you send collectively, and to a degree, collectively; and site factors from severe grading issues to environmental.

Additionally, it is important to look at each component of a MA. As an example, at the Bluffs at Shenandoah in Harrisonburg, where we are nearing completion of due diligence, we have completed all engineering and analysis related to the county approvals as a Planned Unit Development (PUD) within established zoning. After four meetings with county officials, we have conducted many layers of due diligence on each Active Adult, Independent Living, Assisted Living / Memory Care, Multi-Family Townhomes, Retail, and Commercial on a 156 acre site. Our project specific local and regional development and engineering team has devised a plan to move over 1 million cubic feet of dirt (most from a hilltop) throughout the entire site, in creating pad sites for all uses, including phased development, in several cases.

For the Active Adult Community, approximately 99 acres of the total, the completed plan will allow us to utilize drone technology to determine the views. In the next 90 days, after we obtain site work estimates from three of the major site work contractors in the region, we will be able to take pictures from the backyard deck or patio of each of the contemplated homes to be able to determine the premium lot value of what we believe will be 60% to 70% of the 405 Active Adult homes, ranging from single-family, one-story plans with walk out lower levels; duplexes; quads; and several four-story buildings encircling the hilltop. All the (hilltop) condominium apartments will have outstanding views of the Shenandoah, Massanutten, Appalachian, or Blue Ridge Mountains.

It takes time to MA a community such as the Bluffs at Shenandoah, just like it would take both time and a deep team that understands the market has relationships within the city, county, or region.

The Business Plan or Development Plan must be fully vetted. In developing a project with multiple uses and/or phases, the ability to both phase the development but also structure individual partnerships or financing is critical in structuring any agreement with a landowner or land partner. For example, …

As another example, an anchor retail tenant can launch a larger scale retail or retail/office development.
As an example, in the Active Adult development, we always look for at least three phases, with phase one, preferably, single-family and duplex; as that allows us to partner with an Active Adult or residential developer that would be able to bring in construction financing to launch that phase of development.

What is a Master Developer? Frankly, I don’t like the term, “Master,” it has bad implications. I prefer a term such as “Lead Developer” or “Development Team Leader,” even more so. The keys to success are extensive, multi-layered due diligence conducted by the right teams and being able to establish the right teams for a particular project or market. Our strength lies in our ability to network, get to know people, take the time to do so, and be able to build a high quality team to accomplish a MA that can be successful.

A Master Craftsman is one with substantial experience, just like a Master Chef is recognized for his superior culinary creations and years of training. One of the key components of successful development, or virtually anything of substance, is experience. You’ll see companies mention the collective experience of their senior executives, as establishing a quality team is equally important to being experienced in development. “Team experience” and “team” are interchangeable with teams taking on many forms. Successful development rarely, if ever, hinges on an internal team within a company. Sure, there may be more experience within that company, as to being a Master Developer, but the experience is most critical at the local level. What is the best team for the project, i.e., specific to the location and the uses? Who is the best local land use attorney or one of them? What is the best civil engineering firm in the area and why? If developing a project that requires a MA for many uses, do these professionals have the experience in multiple plans that are at least the size of the contemplated MA; and preferably, projects that are much larger in scope? Do you have the right experts, whether it be environmental engineers; traffic engineers; or others that have navigated the approval and the development process in the region; but more specifically, in the city or county when you are developing the project?

Beyond the approval process, who else do you add to the team? Adding others to the team that have the depth of experience and track record is also a necessity. Who is your builder or builders, since different uses typically result in different builders and/or construction managers and additional developers for larger projects. Each use and/or phase needs to stand alone in the value proposition and therefore needs to have a depth that positions the project for either financing (if the developer’s role is to be a stakeholder) or to attract an appropriate experienced developer or operator of a particular use, such as multi-family or senior living, where there are many project specific Master Developers with particular experience and financing relationships such as these uses.

In conclusion, communication and built-in expectation to develop an experienced team, and allowing that team to help shape a MA as a process for due diligence into approvals to appropriate financing and/or partnerships and/or sale of contemplated uses within a MA, is an upmost necessity.