Post-Pandemic Migration and Development

Post-Pandemic Migration and Development

Land development seems to be booming in the southeast, especially during economic hardships, but why? The pandemic has driven Americans of all ages out of the city and into less populated areas. Southeast states such as Florida and Georgia have benefited the most from this migration.

Although southeast states provide more affordability and more space, people want to live in houses that cater to their post-pandemic lifestyle. New development planning in the southeast is being redesigned to facilitate these needs. Subdivisions are being reconfigured to accommodate more outdoor space for public and private use as more and more people become accustomed to life at home. With the influx of people moving into these areas comes the need for an increase in single-family and multifamily construction with a post-pandemic twist.

Companies are also relocating to the southeast, further driving the population and commercial growth. Commercial properties in the southeast are being redesigned with meeting areas, outside lounge areas, and trails to cater to post-pandemic needs. These needs present an advantage over existing commercial real estate development, such as retail stores that might not be able to adjust to post-pandemic lifestyles. Existing restaurants are looking to redesign with more outdoor seating and open-air concepts, which might only be possible through new development. With pre-pandemic layouts and designs for commercial properties on the out, this will create more space for evolving development, and we all know the northeast is desperate for more space. Relocating businesses and commerce centers will pave way for multifamily and single-family development, generating even more commercial development opportunities.

The connection between residential and commercial growth can be supported and strengthened by acknowledging the evolving needs of a community. As businesses and people move, opportunities will arise. Will the northeast learn from their southeast region counterpart’s success in the land development industry? Can we overcome the south and be more successful?

Traffic Jams… Coming Back to an Area Near You

Traffic Jams… Coming Back to an Area Near You

Is it taking you a little longer to get to work or the job site in the morning? Have you noticed more brake lights while out on the road? It’s not your imagination, your road trips are taking longer than they did just a few months ago. Over the past year, the state of Pennsylvania and much of the country has entered into various stages of business, school and travel shut downs. As we move ahead into the spring and summer seasons of 2021, many local restrictions are lifting, kids are returning to the classroom, restaurants are increasing capacity and you can even attend live sporting events again. These are all positive signs that daily life is getting back to normal, but there is one negative side effect to all of this activity – increased traffic.

Traffic levels nationwide have steadily increased over the last twelve months after reaching a low around the middle of April 2020. Since then things have pretty much returned to normal. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation Secretary Yassmin Gramian stated last December that overall traffic volumes in PA are back to approximately 85% of pre-pandemic levels. In some locations, commuter traffic has actually increased as more people drive their own vehicles rather than use public transportation.

So what does this mean for your land development or engineering project? For starters, it means that current traffic counts are accurate for use in your project’s traffic study. It also means that PADOT and municipalities are once again being reminded daily of traffic issues near your project site and they are focused on necessary upgrades and improvements. This all reinforces the idea that smart traffic planning is one of the most important aspects of your project.

Where No Human Can or Wants to Go!

Where No Human Can or Wants to Go!

Dark, cold, dirty, and possibly filled with dangerous gases, it sounds like a fun place to be, right? Crawling into pipe structures, whether for water, stormwater, or sewer, sounds like a nightmare. Thankfully pipe inspection crawlers have significantly reduced and in some cases eliminated the need for people to enter these areas. Additional safety is not the only benefit of pipe inspection crawlers, though. They can identify and analyze structural flaws or collapses, examine post-construction pipe installation, find blockages, locate buried structures like manholes that are not visible above ground, and even be used to catalog the health of pipe infrastructure over the years.

Determining pipe health is crucial for being reactive to issues and proactive in avoiding problems in the future. Sending a pipe inspection crawler through a pipe can provide a wealth of knowledge and data for water, stormwater, or sewer system. Instead of digging up the entire pipe to find exactly where it is compromised, a pipe crawler can help identify the specific pipe segment that needs replacing without the need for any extra digging. On the flip side of it, though, if the pipe crawler does not find any issues requiring an immediate fix, it is still collecting valuable data, such as pipe incline/decline, length, depth, water levels, amount of sediment in the pipe, and the pipe’s current condition. This info can be used to verify if the pipe was properly installed, if it requires a jetting to remove any sediment or roots in the pipe, and how well the pipe has held up over the years. Finding out the current condition can provide you with a possible expected lifetime for the pipe as well, letting you know when you could expect to need to replace it.

Recently D.L. Howell & Associates has been using our pipe crawler to check on conditions of pipes to help determine the possible cause of sinkholes, locate the compromised pipe, note the health of an existing pipe infrastructure to tie into, and help find out the slope of a pipe for the controlling factor of flow. Though this the just the tip of the iceberg of its capabilities, if you or anyone you know needs help identifying issues with a current pipe system, performing a routine check of a pipe’s health, or maybe even some Civil Engineering or Land Surveying work, please feel free to reach out. We would be glad to assist! We can perform CCTV pipe inspection of pipes 6” to 96” and provide a cost-friendly quote ASAP to our customers!

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The Ins and Outs of Easements

The Ins and Outs of Easements

When looking at properties, easements can either make or break any potential development before a layout is even proposed. An easement on a property is the legal right to use another’s land for a specific purpose. The most common type of easement is a utility easement. The municipality or utility service provider usually obtains this kind of easement to install water, electric, etc. lines. Typically, utility easements do not impact properties as most utilities can be installed underground, allowing the area to be planted in or used for recreational uses, provided they do not impact the utility’s use of the easement. The problem that can occur with this kind of easement is that you cannot construct buildings on top of these utilities or within a certain distance, limiting development ability. An example of this would be overhead electric lines or underground pipelines for oil and gas, this area is usually clear of any sort of vegetation other than grass or small shrubs.

Private easements, on the other hand, are specific to the property owner and the individual/entity seeking the use of the land. These easements can vary from temporary grading easements to more permanent access easements for walkways and driveways. For this kind of easement, the entity looking to acquire the easement can either be granted the easement from the property owner or provide some form of compensation to obtain the easement from the owner. Easements stay with the property in question unless the easement holder goes through the process of formally abandoning the easement.

To try and avoid this unwanted surprise, you can obtain a boundary survey with a title report to determine if there are any easements and where they may be located. This can help reduce any potential surprises down the road that would prevent any sort of development on the property. If you have any questions regarding developing your next property or even your current one, give us a call and we will be happy to assist.

Up, Up and Away!

Up, Up and Away!

It has been a long year!!!!! I took on “newsletter duty” last March and April during Covid while we all tried to navigate our way through the potential end of the world and humanity as we know it. This earned me a long reprieve from it being my turn to write one, but alas, here I am again on a Friday morning scouring my smaller than average brain on what to write. I find it strange that I am writing about how “last year” was as if this were New Year’s Eve or the end of a fiscal year, but it isn’t. It seems now everyone measures their “year” from when Covid began, as if March 5th, or whatever date it was, is when our year ended, and a new one began. So, let’s look at “last year” and see if we can use it as an indicator as to where our business is going. Warning, take none of this as gospel as I am usually wrong in all of my predictions of what I think is coming.

We have been busy, as have many in the construction industry. Clearly housing is off the charts, with houses being on the market just a few days and literally receiving dozens of offers, all well above ask. Ultra high demand coupled with ultra low-interest rates has proven to be enough horsepower to overcome skyrocketing lumber and drywall prices as well as nearly every other raw material used in construction. Heck, even the astronomical cost of civil engineering isn’t a drag on this housing market, or so some of my clients tell me. From my perspective, the suburbs are booming, and the cities are struggling. With the city nightlife shut down for the most part, crime on a steady upswing and it being difficult to social distance, we have seen a steady migration out of the urban areas to the suburbs. This may not make all of the Municipalities happy, but the phone ringing in our office is a welcome sound. And so, prediction #1, I feel housing will remain strong for at least several years while this demand continues to be met but may slow as interest rates and gas prices begin their slow creep upward. Someone has to start paying back all of this stimulus money and if you think it won’t be you, think again. Repayment comes in many forms, my friends. However, it is important to keep in mind that the home is no longer just the home; it is also the office, the school, the gym and the vacation spot (as we have engineered more swimming pools this year than we have in the last 20 years combined). And households have shifted those dollars spent on many of those things and put them in the “new house” bucket. This is a good thing….for us.

The office market… where do I begin. Our firm has all been in the office since May 1, when our Governor deemed us “essential”. Thanks Tom. However, we seem to be part of a very small club. Nearly every Zoom meeting I do, and I hate Zoom, has the other people in their kitchen or 4th bedroom office. Most of the people I deal with are still at home. I hope that changes soon, but rarely do I not have someone in a meeting lean forward, look over both their shoulders and whisper, “Denny, I get more work done at home than I do in the office”. Just know that while I would never do it, in my mind, I am leaning forward and slapping you and saying, “ Bull$*#T you are!!!”. So what will become of all of this office space? I don’t think anyone knows, but I hope that many eventually go back or space gets leased by businesses moving out of the urban areas. Either way, I would not be building an office anytime soon and phone calls to design a new office building are few and far between, if at all. So, prediction #2, the office market may be in for a change. Maybe new HVAC systems or “healthy” work areas will be the new norm, but it is anyone’s guess. My gut says people need to be in an office to hire new employees and people from college but who knows. Somehow Drexel and University of Delaware get $80,000 of my co-signed student loan dollars a year to show my kids videos online while they sit in a cinder block cell with a mask on, so maybe the same will hold true for business in the future.

The retail market… oh boy. I mean, when you can order whatever you want and have it that day or the next day at the most competitive price, what is the point in driving somewhere to buy something unless you need to try it on? I will let the pros figure this one out. What will be interesting is how PA Municipalities will react to this as it pertains to their retail and commercial zoning. Prediction # 3, we will continue to see a huge effort into large-scale Amazon and Target type facilities and significant infrastructure dollars will be spent to facilitate moving all of this merchandise around and into our hands. Of course, this brings jobs, and those people need a place to live so… refer two paragraphs up. To the rest of my retail buddies… I would hold on for some bumps as the world changes.

Lastly, let’s look at the flex/warehouse market. I see this being good for a long time coming. Many businesses that require office AND warehouse simply need to be physically at work. You can’t take tractor trailer deliveries, move merchandise and assemble things on your laptop in your underwear at the kitchen table. With all of the housing from above, the trades, landscapers, pool installers etc need a place to work and to service and take care of all of these new homes. Let’s face it, more and more new homeowners can’t fix a leaky faucet or mow their own lawn. Prediction # 4… I like flex!

So how has the last year been, STRICTLY from a business perspective? My answer would be different but good. Covid has taught us all some very tough lessons, but those lessons are only valuable if we learn from them. And as we learn from them and continue to pivot to meet the changes in demand, it certainly is pointing to a much brighter future than what many of us thought we were looking at this time “last year.” Many know I eat breakfast nearly every day at Market Street Grill in West Chester, and this morning, for the first time in a year, I had to lean across the table to hear what my friends were saying because of the noise of everyone talking in the restaurant. What a wonderful inconvenience to have! Stay safe and healthy, and see you “next year” in March 2022.

What the Hail!?

What the Hail!?

When designing stormwater management for a project, it is usually performed by analyzing the pre-development conditions (or coverages) to the post-development conditions. The net difference in volume and peak run-off rates are what we are controlling. Different coverages allow different amounts and/or rates of penetration of run-off back into the ground. Our improvements are typically “impervious,” which do not allow any run-off to seep back into the ground and are therefore the major contributor to the excess run-off that we are trying to control. We design to the 100-year storm event.

Although most people think designing for such a historic rain event is overkill and the facilities capacity will never be used, mother nature has a few tricks up her sleeve’s that increase this probability. The first and most common is frost. As indicated above, impervious coverages are the major contributor to increased run-off, but when the ground freezes, lawn areas become impenetrable as well, temporarily becoming “impervious.” Suppose we get a significant rain event late in the winter season. In that case, the project site becomes 100% impervious, and the run-off volumes and rates increase dramatically over those used under normal conditions. To put this in perspective, a 1-acre site with 10,000 sf. of impervious and the remaining grass will produce 13,812 CF of run-off and a peak flow rate of 6.8 CFS in the 100-year storm event. This same site, under freezing conditions, will make 13,153 CF of run-off and a peak flow rate of 5.6 CFS in just a 5-year storm event. And in the 100-year storm event, these frozen conditions would produce 25,015 CF and a peak rate of 10.35 CFS, which would quickly overwhelm the designed stormwater facilities.

Another weather anomaly that can wreak havoc on our stormwater designs is hailstorms. Witnessed first-hand, the hailstorm we had here just a few summers back produced so much hail that within minutes it had filled up the storm sewer system in our parking lot and acted as an ice dam and stopping the conveyance of run-off altogether. As the hail turned to rain and intensified, the run-off just washed right over the top of all the inlets and continued down through the parking lot, and savagely bombarded the garage door to our lower-level access. Our site is only 2 acres in size, and the amount of run-off was mind-boggling so imagine multiplying this over 1 square mile of a heavily developed area.

It is not economically feasible to design everything for Armageddon-type conditions. Still, it’s essential to know that they can happen and that damaging floods are not necessarily the result of poor engineering design but a result of nature’s unlimited power.