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PMP Associates Blog

Archive for the ‘Residential Land Development Engineering’ Category

# 1 Septic System Maintenance Tip

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011


septic tank outlet filter
septic tank outlet filter



New Septic Systems and replacement septic tanks in Massachusetts are being constructed with a filter device that is inserted into the Septic tank outlet tee. There is supposed to be a cover to the finished ground surface (the cover is bolted down to avoid unauthorized access). There are multiple companies that manufacture these outlet filter devices. These filter devices are typically the same and serve the same basic function, which is to help prevent solids from leaving the Septic Tank and entering the leaching system. A premature failing of the leaching system can occur when soilds and grease are allowed into the leaching system. The filter is simply inserted into the outlet tee.

This filter must be cleaned as part of your septic system maintenance.

Septic Tank outlet filter & Manhole Cover


The Massachusetts Sanitary Code requires the installation of a manhole access cover extended to the final ground surface over the outlet of the Septic tank when an outlet filter is installed. This manhole cover eliminates the digging & searching for the Septic Tank outlet. For safety reasons, these manhole covers are bolted, so you will need a wrench to remove the bolts before opening the cover.

How to clean the Septic Tank outlet filter

The septic tank outlet filter should be cleaned at least once every year and when the septic tank is pumped.

To clean the septic tank outlet filter, you will need rubber gloves, tools to open the manhole cover and a garden hose.

WARNING: this maintenance work will expose you to sanitary waste, so if you have health issues, hire a sanitary pumping company to do this maintenance work. ALSO, do not touch your face or eye when you are doing this job.

U044_PIPING_ASBUILT_2-5-13 004      Outlet filter with handle

                                                                    Outlet filter with handle

Are you ready?

1.   Put on the heavy rubber gloves and un-bolt the manhole cover. Remover the cover.

2.   Reach into the septic tankand grab the handle of the filter.

3.   Pull the filter up and out, keeping it above the open septic tank.

4.   Use the garden hose to spray wash teh scum off the filter and back into the Septic Tank.

5.   Reinsert the filter back into the outlet. BE SURE to have the arrow pointing toward the direction of the outlet pipe.

6.   Put the manhole cover back on (align the bolt holes) and tighten the bolts (don’t over tighten them!).

7.   Remove the rubber gloves (most people will throw them away and take them off by turning them inside-out to avoid touching the outside of the gloves). You should disinfect the end of the garden hose and then wash your hands with pleanty of soap & water

 Why do I need to clean the outlet filter?

The Septic Tank outlet filter blocks material from flowing out of the tank and into the leaching system. Eventually the filter device will collect too much material and the filter will plug up with solids. When that happens, the effluent water is prevented from leaving the Septic tank. If the water can not leave the septic tank, it will back-up into the house. Depending on your home plumbing, a Septic Tank back-up could cause a nasty mess.

My #1 Septic System maintenance Top —- Be sure to clean your Septic Tank Outlet Filter every year!

Top 5 Red Flag Warnings about Septic System Design Engineers

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

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Here are the Top 5 warnings why you should not hire an engineer to design your septic system:

#1. He will beat any other engineer’s price by $100.00!

#2. He has a contractor that will give you a combined price for the  engineering and construction and furthermore, that contractor will beat anybody’s price!

#3. He can do the job cheaper than any other engineer because he has worked in your neighborhood before!

#4. He gives you a very simple keyword outline fee proposal that does not actually describe the engineering services to be performed!

#5. His fee proposal is only for the septic system design and does not include the fees for work that he has to perform during construction!

Your septic system is having problems or it has failed. You have been told that you need to hire an engineer to design a new septic system.

international-symbol-label-sym6-a-smIf during this hiring process you hear any of these Top 5 reasons, consider it to be a Red Flag Warning!

You are about to be fooled into spending more money than necessary and adding a considerable amount of aggravation to an already stressful problem.

Red Flag Warnings?

#1. He will beat any other engineer’s price by $100.00!

Isn’t that great? You do not have to do any further searching for an engineer. You don’t need to know about his qualifications or what services are to be performed by him, because this guy is saving you money (well at least $100.00). Engineering design services are not like buying a bag of cement at Home Depot. The fee for engineering design services is based on the amount of time being used and the staff that is performing these services. How can he guarantee that his fee will be lower? What is he not doing? Maybe he is not doing a design that is best suited for your property? Maybe he is using his standard design regardless of the construction cost?

#2. He has a contractor that will give you a combined price for the  engineering and construction and furthermore, that contractor will beat anybody’s price!

They must be psychic! The size of the leaching system is based on the results of the percolation test and the number of bedrooms in the house. The amount of excavation depends on the depth of the “good” soil (determined by the deep hole soil evaluation) and how much sand (if any) needs to be brought in to construct the system. The groundwater also causes an impact on the elevation of the system and the high groundwater could add a pump chamber to the system design.  How can a contractor know how much the construction will cost without actually having the holes dug and the design plan prepared? As for beating everybody’s price, what corners are being cut to do this?

Also, when its the contractor who hires the engineer, who does the engineer really work for? Not you! When it comes time during the construction of the system and the engineer has to go out to the site to observe the contractor’s work to confirm that it is properly built, does he represent you if something is wrong? If he is teamed up with the contractor, he is not going to mess-up his deal for future work with the contractor. Can you say, “Conflict of interest”?

#3. He can do the job cheaper than any other engineer because he has worked in your neighborhood before!

Knowing where you live does not really change the amount of work that the engineer needs to do in order to design the septic system. Does this sound like the gypsy work crews sealing driveways who are in your neighborhood and happen to have extra materials that they can sell you cheap, since the neighbor already paid for it? If he has records for your property lines, then this information will assist him in doing his work. He may have worked in your neighborhood, but did his previous plan have any problems with its approval? Check him out at the local Board of Health office and take a look at his work. Ask the neighbor about their experience with him and did he ask for extra fees once the project started.

#4. He gives you a very simple keyword outline fee proposal that does not actually describe the engineering services to be performed!

We don’t need no stinking paperwork!  You have to give him credit for trying, when the scope of his services just states, “Design septic system”! Well? This is what you want him to do, right? Will that design include the soil evaluation & percolation testing, existing conditions topographic survey and determination if wetlands issues will require other permits, location of your existing system and elevation of the pipe leaving your house, determination of the best technology to use at your property and possible local upgrade approvals to minimize impacts and construction costs? How about the testing fee and plan review fee that is typically paid to the Town? What about the cost of the excavating contractor to dig the percolation test hole and the deep holes for the soil evaluation?

If you hire this engineer, you can be assured one thing, that you will be told, “Oh, that was not part of my scope of work and it is an extra fee.”

#5. His fee proposal is only for the septic system design and does not include the fees for work that he has to perform during construction!

If you do get a defined scope of work, be sure it includes construction phase services. During the installation of the septic system the engineer (in Massachusetts) is required by the State Sanitary Code to make multiple site visits to view several stages of construction and to make measurements necessary to prepare a plan of the constructed system (this is called an “As-built” plan). When the system is elevated above the natural grade or additional filling is needed for Sanitary Code compliance, a topographic survey is performed after the system is back-filled /covered. This is called a “topographic  as-built” plan. The final as-built plan is submitted by the engineer to the Board of Health with a document that states his opinion that the system was constructed in accordance with the design plan and the permit issued by the Board of Health. This step is needed so you can get your Certificate of Compliance. There is a cost / fee associated with these construction phase services. If you do not have these construction phase items as part of your agreement, then you know you are going to pay more, especially if he cut his fee for the design phase.

international-symbol-label-sym18-a-sm But I need to hire a civil engineer to design my septic system.

What should I do?

The best advice to follow is to spend a little time and understand exactly what services your are buying and what costs are associated with those services. It is only human nature to want to follow the easier path (have someone else do the work for you). When it come to a septic system repair project, you could end up spending much more that was necessary. A little time spent now could mean larger savings for you in the future.

  • Be sure that the engineer has a good reputation and the quality of his work is also good. The local Board of Health is a good source of information, especially about engineers whose plans are always being returned for corrections and revisions before being approved.
  • The internet is a good research tool. If the engineer has a web page, review the information on septic system design.
  • When you call the engineer, do you get to speak with him and if you leave a message, does he promptly return your call?
  • Be sure to talk with the engineer to discuss your needs and project completion requirements. Ask him to send you a complete proposal. Don’t be intimidated if it takes several pages to describe the services. Take the time to read it and call the engineer back to ask your questions. Even visit his office to go over the scope of services and fees. This visit will also give you the opportunity to see the office.
  • Ask the engineer about other septic system projects that he has designed in your town.
  • Ask the engineer about his design approach. Does he design each system based on the individual property conditions or does he limit his designs to a few types of systems.

It you have any reservations about hiring a particular engineer, then don’t hire that engineer!

Before making calls and talking with an engineer about your project, you may want to get a better understanding about the process of replacing a failed septic system.

A straight forward description of this process is available free to download and it is called, “Valuable Information on Title 5 Septic System Perc. Testing, Soil Evaluation & Design Engineering.”

Do you have any other Red Flag Warnings to add to this Top 5 list?

You can comment and add them to this blog for all to see.


What’s the Buzz?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Yes, we are using Social Media marketing, or trying to, anyway.

First we were linking from Face Book and then we were Tweeting on Twitter.

We post our blogs on Hub Pages, comment on Yelp, Propeller & Fluther.

Now we are using Google’s new “Buzz” application.

You can follow us using   pmp.associates.engineering@gmail.com

How to design a Septic System – Understand the Sanitary Code

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Since the late 1970′s, as a Civil Engineer, I have been involved with the design of Septic Systems, including the training of other young engineers.

If I was limited to only one piece of advice, it would be:

Understand the Sanitary Code!

In Massachusetts, the Sanitary Code was issued in 1978 under 310CMR15.00 and commonly called “Title 5″. A major revision took place in the mid 1990′s with further revisions during the last few years. In addition to the Code changes, the State has been issuing “policies” that clarify the Code and allow for the use of various “innovative and alternative” systems and components.

I have never subscribed to the “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality. As each Code revision is published, I and my staff of civil engineers become familiar with the changes and new requirements. As new technologies are approved (for both remedial and general use) we get technical data from these companies, including in-house demonstration seminars.

I can’t understand how a designer will insist on using a conventional pipe and stone leaching system when there are so many choices available that would reduce the cost of the system. Well, maybe I do understand, they either don’t want to change, or, they are cutting their costs & fee and limiting the time spent on preparing the design plan. Some people like vanilla, but there are other flavors available and while you might pay a little more, there are added benefits in the long term.

Think of this as a round peg in a square hole. Depending on the size of the peg, you might be able to make it fit. But one size does not always fit all!

Do you remember Mission Impossible? At the beginning of the program, the team is selected from the stack of available members. While the design of a septic system is not an impossible task, having the right “team” of system components should be the ultimate goal.

In order to select the “team”, you need to understand the Code!

Engineering Services are not Commodities

Friday, January 29th, 2010

A recent article in the Point of Beginning magazine, “Dynamic Pricing
by Larry Phipps, PLS talked about professional surveying services being treated as a commodity, like buying a bunch of bananas. That article could have also been written about the general public’s perception of engineering services.

With the housing market and the overall economy at an all time low, it is obvious that people will try to get the best “lowest” price when making a purchase. Everyone loves a bargain!

Engineering services are not really understood and for the most part, considered to be basically the same from firm to firm. These consumers are told they need an engineer, so they hire an engineer in the same manner as buying a bag of cement. While looking only at the price, they don’t understand that every engineering firm is different and the services offered are very different.

A good example is the need to have engineering design services performed for a replacement septic system for a family that is selling their house and moving. The family wants to limit their costs in order to “get out of Dodge” as quickly as possible. They shop around for an “engineer” like they would shop for a bag of cement and select the lowest price. They get what they paid for and then the “extra” costs start to add up beyond the amounts proposed by the established engineering firms. The quality of the plans, while meeting the basic requirements, did not show enough detail that allowed bidding contractors to fully define the construction costs, which typically results in the contractor seeking additional money for “unanticipated” extras. The family is caught in a trap and they pay more than they expected.

What happens to this low-priced “bag of cement” engineer? Nothing! The family becomes totally frustrated, pays the extras and moves out of town. Future consumers have no one to contact so the cycle continues.

There is a clothing store called, Syms, that has a slogan, “An educated consumer is our best customer”. That slogan is also true for customers seeking an engineering consultant.

When engineering services are not treated like a commodity, everyone benefits.

Septic System Construction – Do you need an Engineer?

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The local Board of Health has approved the plans for your Septic System; you have accepted a bid from a contractor and you are ready to start construction.

Do you need an engineer?

If you are working in Massachusetts, the answer is Yes!

The State Sanitary Code under Section 310CMR15.021 actually defines what your Engineer needs to do during the construction of the Septic System.

Here is a listing of the Tasks that your engineer needs to do.

Task 1 – The engineer needs to observe and confirm the initial excavation of the system area.

Bottom of Excavation

Bottom of Excavation

Task 2 – The engineer needs to observe the construction / installation of the system components (Septic Tank, Distribution Box & Leaching System).

Septic tank installation

Septic tank installation

Task 3 – Prior to the contractor back-filling the system, the engineer needs to take measurements of the constructed system components (location and elevation) to confirm that the components were installed in accordance with the approved plan.

Leaching Chamber System Construction

Leaching Chamber System Construction

Task 4 – The engineer needs perform additional measurements when a system has grading to prevent “break-out” in order to confirm that the grading was constructed properly.

Final grading over Septic System

Final grading over Septic System

Task 5 – The engineer needs to prepare an “as-built” plan for the constructed system and submit the “as-built” plan to the local approving authority (Board of Health for example) along with a form that clearly states that the system has been properly constructed.

During these tasks, the local Health Agent also visits the construction site to make observations of the work progress.

The contractor also has to submit a form stating the construction of the system has been properly completed.

Once all these tasks are done, the local approving authority can issue the Certificate of Compliance.

Townhouse Condominium Projects, are they still a good housing alternative?

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Was it just a few years ago when small scale Townhouse Style condominium projects provided an alternative to single family houses?

What happened to this branch of the housing industry?

Let me first  tell you the story of the Cushing Mithcell Condominium, which is located on Central Street in East Bridgewater, MA.

The rambling, 6 bedroom dwelling at 90 Central Street was destroyed by fire and was too far gone to rebuild. Thankfully no one was hurt in the fire. The owner was not interested in replacing the building. A local developer, during his negotiations to purchase the property had P.M.P. Associates, LLC perform an initial due-diligence study to establish the various constraints to re-developing this property (Zoning set-back requirements, local groundwater protection requirements, need for new sanitary wastewater disposal “septic”  system, an existing driveway access  easement and the location within an historic area).

Since the property had a six bedroom dwelling, six bedrooms could be reconstructed on the property. However, only a single structure could be built and it needed to fit within the general footprint of the destroyed building.

After several concepts and alternatives that were developed by the project’s architect and civil engineer, three, two-bedroom townhouse units with a connecting two-car open front garage/carport were selected. To maintain the historical nature of the property, the front unit was rotated 90 degrees to face the street and the stone wall feature on the abutting property was extended along the front of this property.

Here is the final engineering site plan that was approved for the project.

Site Plan Drawing

Site Plan Drawing

This is a narrow lot that did not leave much room for the septic system. The right side of the property has a driveway easement for the abutting property, which had to be maintained. The site design took advantage of this requirement and combined it into the driveway access for the three units and guest parking.

Here is the engineering plan for the septic system.

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

Septic System Engineering Design Plan

The Town of East Bridgewater has a requirement to provide for groundwater recharge. To meet this requirement, the roof drainage was collected and directed to a recharge system that was designed specifically for the soil conditions at this property. The recharge system had to be located away from the septic system as well as the building foundation.

Here is what the completed complex looks like from the street.

Cushing Mitchell Comdominium - Front Unit

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Front Unit

The other two units face the driveway and each unit is separated with an open garage / carport.

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Cushing Mitchell Condominium - Units 2 & 3

Before the first unit could be sold, P.M.P. Associates, LLC prepared, the condominium unit plans and condominium site plan for the Developer in conjunction with his attorney.

At the present time, one unit has been sold and is occupied.

These units are well built and located in a desirable location. The asking price appears to have been adjusted to the current real estate market conditions. So why are there two units still available?

Has the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and today’s banking institutions totally destroyed condominium sales?

Maybe I am an optimist, you know, the glass is have full kind of guy.  I firmly believe that the smaller condominium projects are going to play a  vital part in the recovery of the housing industry. These projects provide an affordable alternative to a single family home. As local agencies continue to increase the cost of land development through increased regulations and fees, developers need to have a more cost effective housing alternative.

The Cushing Mitchell Condominium is being marketed by:

Heritage Home Real Estate

36 North Bedford Street, East Bridgewater, MA02333

Telephone 508-378-8100

Is new housing construction still alive in Southern New England?

Saturday, February 21st, 2009

I’m sick of hearing and reading all the negative news about “the housing industry”.  Every day there are more and more articles and news stories blasting out “doom and gloom” predictions with so-called experts lamenting about the “crisis” in the housing market.

In 1938, Orson Wells, presented an adaptation of H.G. Well’s novel, “The War of the Worlds” on the CBS Radio Network and caused thousands of listeners to panic. Seventy years later, our media outlets have perfected the science of creating panic. For example, when a New England weatherman is predicting a 1″ to 2″ snowstorm, they hype it up to sound like the second coming of the Great Blizzard of ’78! On those days I stay away from the local supermarket in fear that I would be seriously injured by the little old ladies clearing the shelves of bread and milk.

Tell the truth! Do the “media” people have any idea what happened to all the general contractors, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. that work in the housing industry? They didn’t just vanish, did they? No!

In direct contradiction to the naysaying media, I say that there is new housing construction in Southern New England.

As a civil engineer involved with land development design, I get invloved with different types housing projects, right from the very beginning when a builder wants an evaluation of the development potential of the raw land. Before a single board can be nailed on a new house, the raw land has to be converted into building lots, which involves a permitting process that could make your saintly grandmother swear.

When you consider the cost of the raw land, engineering, permitting, local & state fees, roadway & utility construction costs and then the actual house construction with the lot improvement costs, it is no wonder why new housing costs have been so high.

Just last year I had the opportunity to design a five duplex-lot residential subdivision in Bridgewater, MA. My client was experienced in house construction and with my assistance, received an education in subdivision design and permitting. Upon approval from the local planning board, he proceeded with the roadway construction and then the development of the first of five duplex units.

Definitive Subdivision Plan

The construction of the new duplex house is allowing this developer to keep his crews employed during the slow winter months. One of the units will be used as a combination temporary sales office and model unit. The developer is incorporating “green” components into his construction and plans on having a variety of options available to customize each unit to the buyer’s specifications.

Since this location in Bridgewater (off High Street, just west of Route 18) has a public water supply but not a municipal sanitary sewer system, the individual lot designs needed to include an on-site sanitary wastewater disposal system (commonly know as a Septic System). The developer has elected to have each unit in the duplex served by their own individual system (Septic tank and leaching system).

Here is a photograph of the duplex unit that is under construction on Lot 3.

New duplex house in Bridgewater, MA

The developer is Mr. Michael Cochrane with Home Town Construction Co., 204 Court Street, Plymouth, MA 02360

These two units are now being listed and shown by  Keller Williams Real Estate. The developer is planning on starting the next two units this Fall.

The Secret to Success in 2009

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

Do you want to be successful?

Would you like to know a secret?

Here it is………….. “To be successful, hire successful people.”

Here is a true example on how to be successful in Land Development, without having to be in the land development business.

A couple owned a single family house on several acres of land in southern Massachusetts. They assumed that the vacant land had some value, but did not how to go about the process. They hired a real estate professional that was experienced in land development to make an initial determination to see if their assumption was correct.  When he confirmed their assumption, he suggested that they hire a civil engineering & land planning consultant. This couple knew the “secret” and selected an established civil engineering consultant who was not only experienced in land development projects, but also had a good reputation. Based on the advice of their civil engineering consultant, the couple first had an initial due-diligence study performed. This study established the multiple development constraints imposed by the shape of the property, wetlands, State Codes, local Zoning Laws and local municipal regulations. This study also resulted is a conceptual development plan with recommendations for a step by step approach for the permitting process. The couple now had a full understanding of the process to convert their vacant land into new residential house lots. They authorized their civil engineering consultant to proceed with this “step by step” process and converted their property into five new house lots plus a lot for their own house.

The couple knew that their success was strongly dependent upon the performance of their hired consultants. Knowing that there are no guarantees in a land development project, the couple understood that by using a team of successful professionals, they increased their chances for a successful project.

The same “secret” applies to the real estate professional and the civil engineering consultant. By working to make your client successful, you increase your chances to be successful.

Do you want to be successful?

Then you should not only hire successful people, but you should also do everything you can to be sure that they remain successful, since your success depends upon them.

Land Development 101 – An Overview

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

By Michael E. Perrault, P.E.

So you have a few extra acres of land and want to sell off some lots. Before you post a “Lots For Sale” sign on your land, there are a few steps that need to be followed to transform your raw land into actual building lots.

These steps are based on my personal experience gained in over 30 years in land development civil engineering and are my own opinion. We all know that opinions are like noses, we all have one, so you will have to decide if my opinion is worth anything.

Probably the most important first step is to perform a “due diligence study”, which is a fancy term for “doing your homework”. This study is basically researching a bunch of data, rules, regulations, etc. that relate to your land. For example, is a public water supply available to serve the new lots and what are the requirements for extending the water system to the lots (permits, materials and don’t forget costs). A basic due diligence study will evaluate local zoning requirements, subdivision regulations, utilities, health codes (when on-site septic systems and or drinking water wells are needed), wetlands, endangered species, soils, local permitting as well as state & federal permitting. The goal of this due diligence study is to allow you to make an informed decision to proceed with the development process.

Now that you decided to go ahead, the next step is to prepare a “conceptual design”. Generally, your property deed is used to prepare a worksheet plan of the perimeter of your land, since not all deeds make a reference to a detailed property survey plan (this is especially true in New England). The local Zoning requirements and subdivision regulations are applied to create a concept plan. This plan can include other general information such as wetlands, general topography and available plan data. The “conceptual plan” is an important, low cost, planning tool. You do not need to spend money at this time on a perimeter or topographic survey, since you are still trying to determine if you can develop your land. The “conceptual plan” allows you to ask the “what if” questions and look at alternatives. At this stage, general initial budget numbers can be established for the two major components, Engineering / Permitting and Construction.

Before spending a lot of money and time, there are a few steps to take to help you decide to move forward.

The first is associated with wetlands. There are Federal and State Wetland Regulations that limit land development. To make matters more complicated, local municipalities are also adopting Wetland By-laws and regulations that prohibit work in the wetland buffer zones. Before doing anything, have the wetland resource areas on and adjacent to your property delineated. While you may not have a wetland on your land, you may be within a buffer zone of the wetland on your neighbor’s property which would impact your development. An assessment of the extent of the wetlands, without performing an on-the-ground location survey, will help you determine if your development project can move forward. In some States, there is an application process that allows you to have the wetland resource area approved, which basically freezes the wetland line for a period of years, allowing you to proceed with the permitting process without having the wetland line shift and causing a major re-design.

Another of these initial steps has to do with properties that do not have a municipal sanitary sewer system available and have to rely on individual on-site septic systems. The soils on your property has to be suitable to allow for the design and construction of these septic systems. Soils mapping can only give you a general indications of the surface soils and general geology. The conceptual design can be you guide in performing some initial test holes to obtain actual data regarding suitable soils and percolation rates as well as the elevation of the high groundwater. If you land needs to have septic systems and it does not have suitable soils, then unless you can extend a municipal sanitary sewer to your land, you have a very serious problem with going forward.

The next step is the “Preliminary Plan”. Each local planning agency has their own set of rules regarding the format and content of “Preliminary Subdivision Plans”. While these preliminary plans are intended to present general design information, some communities have insisted on having more detailed design data shown at this phase. For those projects that present unique ideas for the laying out of the roads and lots, which may not be looked upon in a favorable light with the local planning agency, it may be wise to schedule an informal discussion with the planning agency during one of their meetings. The updated conceptual plan can be presented for comments and questions. The results of this informal meeting can be used in the preparation of the “Preliminary Plan”.

In order to prepare the “Preliminary Plan”, the perimeter of your property needs to be determined, the physical features and topography surveyed as well as the locations of the wetlands. The local Zoning and Subdivision Regulations evaluated and applied in the design of the subdivision roadway layout and lots. The “Preliminary Plan” also needs to show, in a general manner, the public water supply, storm drainage, etc. The local planning agency will schedule a formal meeting to discuss the “Preliminary Plan”. Some communities require all abutters within a certain distance to be mailed a notification of this meeting and a notice published in a local newspaper. There are certain legal benefits in having a local planning agency approve a “Preliminary Plan”. Just to be clear, the approval of a “Preliminary Subdivision Plan” does not mean that you will get an automatic approval for the “Definitive Subdivision Plan”.

The “Definitive Subdivision Plan” step is where all the formal design plans are created for your land development project. There are multiple drawings / plans that make up the “Definitive Subdivision Plan”. There is a plan created for the geometry of the roadways and lots (this is the plan that gets recorded at the Registry of Deeds ), a plan showing the existing and proposed topography, a plan & profile for the roadways, a plan & profile for utilities not within a roadway layout, and a series of plans showing details for the road and utility construction. The layout design for the various utilities (infrastructure) is presented on these plans. Also included on separate documents are lot & roadway geometry calculations, drainage calculations and specific environmental reports mandated by local planning agencies.

A formal “Public Hearing” will be advertised and held to discuss your subdivision plan. The abutters and certain agencies are all given written notice of this public hearing. Other municipal agencies are provided copies of the plan to review and make comments. Some communities have an independent peer review performed on the subdivision plan. The public hearing can be continued over several meeting nights to allow for comments to be addressed, which may result in revisions to the design plans. Once the planning agency is satisfied (if they are not satisfied, they can deny your project) that your plan is complete and acceptable, they will close the public hearing and vote to approve the “Definitive Subdivision Plan”. Most communities have an appeal period that follows this approval, which allows for a legal appeal of the decision.

If the project falls within the jurisdiction of a local or state agency regarding work in or adjacent to wetlands, a formal permit application needs to be made to allow the project to be built. I am a firm believer in doing this wetlands permitting in parallel with the “Definitive Subdivision: process. This approach allows you to gain review comments from two permitting agencies at the same time. These comments can be addressed and shown on the revised drawings / plans during the public hearing process. The overall result will be one set of approved final plans that do not require you to go back to get re-approved by the other agency.

These steps, as presented, are only an overview of the more common permitting tasks in converting raw land into building lots and does not include any construction phase items.

As an example, the drawing below is an “Open Space ” residential subdivision that I designed. The project involved all of the above described steps and more! Each of the lots has their own on-site septic system with drinking water provided by a municipal water supply.

Wampanoag Estates, Wrentham MA

Here is what the site looked like in April 2005.

Aerial Photo Wampanoag Estates

As you can see, as of the date of this aerial photo, the majority of the project was complete (it is now fully completed).  Hard to believe that this residential subdivision was once a gravel pit!

This blog was intended as an “overview” to the land development process. I intend on creating a series of blogs with more detail on the individual steps and tasks.