By Nicholas Tsontakis | DwellBoldly
From rock outcroppings to washes, steep slopes, and odd shapes – some of Arizona’s finest view properties come with a challenging set of design obstacles. The appeal of these properties, views aside, is that they often come at a discount to the buyer due to their limited buildability. Your ability to decipher what building challenges are insurmountable and what challenges can be overcome will determine your potential for success. An experienced architect and civil engineer pairing can help you understand the natural obstacles and city ordinances that impact building on a beautiful but wild site.
Natural elements like rock outcroppings or washes through a property represent limitations for many but represent opportunities for architects. Beauty occurs on these sites where nature meets order. While some may try to avoid a rock outcropping and build far from it, an architect might wrap a main stairwell with large windows around it so a homeowner may view it as they make their multiple daily trips up and down,to and from their office and master suite. A mass of rocks can also be the main talking piece in a great room if planned correctly. The quality of a home design on these sites relies mostly on the way in which the architect has handled or highlighted certain natural features of the land. Similarly, a large wash through a site might signal a red f lag for many, and there are times when it might be too difficult to navigate stormwater requirements, but it might also represent an opportunity to create a lasting moment for a homeowner. A general rule for stormwater management is that the water must flow in and out where it entered and exited naturally prior to development. While it may not be worth the expense of temporarily rerouting a wash or building on top of one, a cantilevered balcony floating above one, especially after a monsoon, can offer an experience not many can boast of having seen in their lives. Natural elements on sites that sometimes seem insurmountable can often become moments or experiences in the beauty that make a quality home which can translate to a higher sale price. Prior to dismissing a property due to its seemingly overly difficult development, consult with an architect and civil engineer during your due diligence period to deepen your understanding of the site.
The natural beauty of a site is often protected by the City, Town, or County they are located in. For example, most jurisdictions in Maricopa County have an added hillside section as part of their zoning ordinance that restricts development on sloping properties more than flat properties. Hillside regulations aim to preserve the natural beauty of these lots. For instance, most cities calculate height requirements for hillside homes from the natural slope of the land, so a home that is built perpendicular to the slope of the hill has no choice but to step down at a similar rate as the natural slope of the ground. Similarly, driveways have maximum slope requirements that force pavement to meander up the hill, thus encouraging a drive that moves with the natural grade. Further still, there are typically requirements for maximum heights of retaining walls that encourage terracing down the hill rather than putting up 20-foot-tall walls to hold up a flat portion of land. This protects from unsightly expanses of walls for those looking up the hill. These regulations, benevolent as they are, mean additional reviews with the City or Town. These can be cumbersome and can sometimes add up to 3 or 4 months to the review process, depending on the familiarity of a civil engineer and architect with the process and the workload of the plan reviewers. That three- or four-month period can easily become a one-year standoff between you and the city if hiring inexperienced designers. Just like experienced architects can help elevate the natural beauty of a site, their familiarity with the regulatory process can also help expedite approvals with the City/Town/County.
When you come across a deal on a plot of land, while it might seem too good to be true, it may also mean that the right team has not run the proper analysis to determine whether some of the natural features on site are obstacles or opportunities. Developing these lots is difficult but may come with a high reward when handled correctly.
Considering developing a hillside property? Here are some links to some hillside regulations of Zoning Ordinances for some jurisdictions in Maricopa County:
Fountain Hills: https://fountainhills.town.codes/SO/5.04