Get the Most out of Your Civil Engineer

When you start a business or even add a new branch to your existing business, you have a lot to think about and a cornucopia of decisions to make. How will you find key employees? Who will be your Clients and how will you find them? You also have to answer mundane questions such as “Which light bulb should you use since there are going to be thousands of them in the building?”

Or, when you create the website for your new company, what font should you use on the menus? Forest green or Kelly green?

I can’t help you a lot when it comes to those vital decisions (though I can tell you that you should NEVER use Comic Sans on a menu). I can, however, tell you about how choosing a civil engineer can make or break your business and I can bet with all of those other decisions, that one may not have occurred to you.

Many businesses just use the engineer their architect or investor suggests and usually whoever suggests the engineer is getting something out of it. Great for them, but not necessarily great for you. Why are civil engineers important?

If you find out about problems mid-way through your project, or worse, after your project is finished, it can cost you thousands of dollars to fix the problem. An experienced engineer knows what things need to be taken into account to preempt such costly issues. An engineer can perform a feasibility study to determine if the site where you have chosen to build your facility can meet city requirements for site area. An engineer must take into account things like permitting, utilities, parking, drainage, growth, erosion and flooding.

Another problem that can pop up is that of permitting. A good engineer is an expert at getting you the permitting for your project. Without that permitting, your project could fail without ever even getting started. A good engineer will have good relationships with the people in charge of approving your permit. Many types of permits must be signed and sealed by an engineer, or the permit will not be issued.

A good engineer will do more than give you a drawing or a signature. The best civil engineers will make sure your project is a success and try to save you money long term. So don’t always go with the guy your architect hands over to you. Do research to see if the engineer has some good reviews or testimonials. Look at that engineers previous projects. Do they have experience working with a project similar to yours?

If you are looking to start a new development project, make sure you choose the right engineer. It could mean the difference between success and failure for your project.

Development in Central Texas is Resuming

We are starting to see some activity in the form of Land Development in the Austin area and in Central Texas. Some of our Clients that have not been active, or have not been able to obtain financing, have called us to discuss new development projects. We don’t know if this is just a busy period that will end soon, or if we are seeing the beginning of a new, long term growth cycle. All signs point to the need for more housing and infrastructure to accommodate the growing population.

Our New Project on Lake Austin, “Laguna Terrera”, is Under Construction!

It is great to see a project that you have drawn on paper become a reality.  Laguna Terrera is a high-end residential project located on Lake Austin near the community of West Lake Hills.  Our survey crew is on-site now providing locations for pilings.  Soon the utilities will be constructed.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress!

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Construction Administration

The Owner of a Development Project needs someone to represent his or her interest during construction of the project.  Our firm provides Construction Administration services that benefit Owners of development projects.  We provide Construction Services on Commercial, Industrial and Residential projects of all sizes. 

We measure the construction quantities, so the Owner only pays for the amount actually built.  We prepare the Construction Contract using Unit Prices, so that the Owner pays by the Unit, thereby eliminating the possibility of overpayment.  We obtain competitive bids from several Contractors in order to get the best price.  We conduct the bidding and assist the Owner in the selection of a Contractor. 

When construction begins, we make sure the proper authorities are notified and invited to the pre-construction conference.  As construction progresses, we observe the construction  When the Contractor submits an Application for Payment, we go to the Construction Site and check to see if the work that the contractor is seeking payment for has actually been completed.  Often times at this point, we will ask the Contractor to reduce his request for payment to the amount actually completed.  In this way, we make sure the Project Owner only pays for work actually completed and in place.  We also with-hold a Retainer, usually 10% of the amount approved for payment, in order to protect the interests of the Owner. 

As the project nears completion, we prepare a Punch-List of final items that must be completed for the Contractor to collect the Retainer.  When the project is substantially complete, the regulatory authorities are invited to the Construction Site for a final walk-thru.  At this point in the process, we often must interact with the inspectors and regulators to assure the Owner obtains his Certificate of Occupancy.  (For Public Improvements, Project Acceptance is the goal, because then the improvements are accepted for maintenance by the Public, ending Owner responsibility for the Improvements.)  

We have successfully completed many Construction Projects.  Some types of projects we have completed include:

Residential Subdivisions

Mixed-Use Subdivisions

Commercial Site Developments and Strip Centers

Office Developments

Schools

Institutional Projects including Hospitals and Government Buildings

Warehouse Developments

Apartment Projects

Hotels and Motels

Restaurants

Major Utility Projects

Water Treatment Plants

Water Wells and Pump Stations

Wastewater Plants

Floodplain Improvements & Flood Control

Drainage Projects

Marinas

Floating Docks

Road Projects

Approach Mains

Water Quality Ponds and BMP Controls

Erosion Control Installation

Single Family Homes

Septic Systems

Park Improvements 

The above projects are only a representative example of the types of projects we have completed.  Call us at 512-442-0377 before your next project to make sure your next project is a success.

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Using a Development Agreement to Develop Land in Texas

A Landowner can eliminate a lot of uncertainty and risk when developing land in Texas by entering into a Development Agreement with local Municipalities.  The Development Agreement also helps the local Municipality set forth rules for development that specifically apply to the subject property. 

We at The Moore Group have assisted both Landowners and Municipalities in the preparation of Development Agreements.  A Development Agreement should be a “win-win” agreement that helps both parties achieve their goals.  It can also streamline procedures for obtaining the additional entitlements that follow the Development Agreement.

One aspect of Land Development that can benefit from a Development Agreement is offsite improvements.  Municipalities typically require larger developments to make improvements to the infrastructure adjacent to the proposed development.  The infrastructure improvements are needed because of the additional burden a large development puts on local streets and utilities.  With a Development Agreement, the Landowner can know in advance how much will be required for offsite improvements, and the Municipality can be sure that the necessary improvements will be made to support the development.

In summary, a Development Agreement can help both the Landowner and the local Municipality plan Development in a way that benefits both parties.  We at The Moore Group have experience in the preparation of Development Agreements.  We can help prepare a successful Development Agreement

The Benefits of Water Districts (including M.U.D.’s & W.C.I.D.’s)

The State of Texas allows Land Developers to form Water Districts in order to help finance medium to large sized projects. The Water District repays the Developer for the cost of utilities, drainage systems, ponds and other improvements. The Water District is a taxing authority that re-pays the Developer through the issuance of bonds, similar to municipal bonds. 

There is more than one type of Water District. Types that are commonly used in Land Development include the Municipal Utility District (M.U.D.) and the Water Control & Improvement District (W.C.I.D.). Both types allow the Developer to be reimbursed for many construction costs and soft costs. 

When the District is formed, there is a resident on the property to be developed who will vote in a special election for the Creation of the District and for the eventual Reimbursement of the Developer. The voting resident is not just anybody, but is a person who is living on the land for the purpose taking part in the election and voting to create the District. Since the voting resident is hand selected, the outcome of the election is pre-determined and the Developer is guaranteed to be reimbursed once there are enough taxpayers in the District to support the Bonds. 

A good rule of thumb for the size of development that makes creation of a Water District viable is that it should have the equivalent of at least 200 average price homes that are paying taxes to the Water District. We have helped our Clients with the Creation of Districts of over 2,000 homes, mixed with commercial property. But a high end development may provide enough of a tax base to support a District with fewer than 200 tax payers. We have assisted Clients with small Districts as well.  We have a team of experts that have created Districts in the past.  Call us at 512-442-0377 for more information on Water Districts as they apply to Land Development.

Negotiating City Maintenance of Ponds

 

City staff persons can attempt to cause unnecessary expense to a developer and the eventual home owners within a development.  For example, while obtaining entitlements for a recent land development in the City of Austin, a city case manager told us that we would have to pay into an escrow account an amount of money sufficient to maintain three ponds within our project for a 2-year maintenance period.  In addition, this staff person wanted us to provide restrictive covenants that would place the long term burden of maintenance on the eventual home owners within the development.

 We found that the city code did not require a developer to maintain ponds within this type of development.  Although the city case manager had made written comments requiring us to pay money for maintenance, there was no basis in the code for this expense!  The code requires the City of Austin to maintain the ponds serving this development.

 We showed the reviewer the portion of the code that covered maintenance of ponds in this type of development (and in this area).  The reviewer had to admit we were right, and that we would not be required to pay money for maintenance of the ponds.  However, he had a reason why he initially told us we would have to pay for maintenance.  He said “The City Council made a mistake, there is not enough funding for the city to maintain these ponds.” Grudgingly, he concurred with us that he did not really have the authority to require us to pay for pond maintenance.  I am happy to say that this issue was resolved in our favor.

 The lesson from this experience is to check the basis in the code for the requirements made by reviewers.  The staff reviewer may be asking for something he would like to see, but is not really a requirement.  We always strive to maintain good relationships with the city staff, especially the higher-up staff.  But when it comes to staff requests that are going to cost us money and are not requirements, we gently remind the staff person of what the code actually says.  Although at times we have had to find satisfaction from a person in a supervisory position, when we know we are right we have always succeeded in obtaining the correct reading of the code.

www.mooregroup.net The Moore Group