Land developers face a myriad of challenges that can make or break their projects. From intricate zoning laws to community opposition, the road to successful development is replete with obstacles.

That’s where the expertise of a land use attorney becomes invaluable. Below, we outline the top 5 challenges that proposed development projects are likely to encounter in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, and offer insights into how experienced legal representation can help guide a project through the complexities, saving you time and potentially significant costs.

1. Identifying and Managing the Applicable Development Review Processes

Identifying and navigating the applicable development review processes for a given development project is a complex endeavor that involves a maze of regulations, timelines, and legal requirements.

The Challenge: To succeed, developers must understand the intricacies of land use and zoning law and, often, associated subdivision processes. Each project is unique and may not only have permit requirements, but also one or more preliminary processes that may need to happen sequentially, including miscellaneous environmental reviews, and rezoning, subdivision, site plan, or conditional use approvals (previously called special exceptions). 

The stakes for such development projects are high, and a single legal misstep can derail your entire project. In addition, development review is also often fraught with open-ended time frames and opportunities for community participation, making it difficult to predict how long it will take to receive the necessary approvals. This uncertainty can be costly, both in terms of time and financial resources. That’s why working with a land use attorney isn’t merely advisable – it’s essential.

The Attorney’s Role: An experienced land use and zoning attorney specializes in guiding clients through these labyrinthine development review processes. While a a land use attorney often assists clients with applicable permitting processes if necessary, that phase typically follows the work done within the entitlements phase. The primary role of a land use attorney is to help developers identify and formulate an approach to the applicable necessary approvals for a given project, assemble an appropriate consultant team,  and then lead that team through the complex stages of the real estate development process. These stages often involve multiple layers of approval and can be subject to changing legislation and regulations, adding another layer of complexity. Additionally, an attorney assists clients with due diligence and master plan analysis, and with more specialized cases such as historic preservation, condemnation (eminent domain), variances, administrative appeals, and zoning text amendments.

2. Understanding and Limiting the Burden of Complex Regulations

If you find that your development plans are stymied by zoning regulations that don’t align with your objectives, a land use and zoning attorney can help potentially navigate these challenges. A skilled team of attorneys should be adept at dissecting complex regulations and identifying alternative pathways to achieve your goals while minimizing the adverse effects of these rules.

One of the most significant challenges that developers face arises from environmental constraints that affect property development. Whether it’s adhering to County regulations or State and Federal laws, environmental regulations may severely limit what you can do with your land. Similarly complex stumbling blocks may include transportation considerations, such as the impact of a project on local vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic and public transit and otherwise meets applicable requirements of the jurisdiction’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Understanding and limiting the burden of these regulations is crucial. It’s not just about knowing the law; it’s about leveraging that knowledge to streamline involvement with the development review process. A land use attorney can not only help you understand such regulations, but also work proactively to limit their impact on your project. This involves staying abreast of changing legislation over the long term, and alerting you to any shifts that could affect your development.

3. Speed and Certainty

In land development, time is of the essence, and uncertainty can be a project’s worst enemy.

The Challenge: Delays in development not only escalate costs but also create missed opportunities. The ultimate goal is to not only get your project completed properly, but to do so without hindrances or missteps.

The Attorney’s Role: A skilled land use attorney offers both more speed and better certainty in navigating the complex development landscape. Benefits of working with a zoning attorney include:

  • Expedited processes: An attorney uses industry knowledge and leverages relationships to speed up approvals and permitting, saving you valuable time.
  • Greater certainty of completion: With a land use attorney, you can be assured that your project has a better chance of completion within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Expert guidance: An attorney’s comprehensive understanding of land use zoning codes and development review processes reduces the risk of legal missteps.
  • Proactive problem-solving: An attorney anticipates potential challenges, from environmental to transportation issues, and tries to address them before they become roadblocks. Team coordination: A land use attorney manages and leads a team of experts, ensuring that every aspect of your project is handled as efficiently as possible.

4. Working Through Opposition from Community or Government

The Challenge: One of the most formidable challenges developers face is potential opposition, either from the local community or from government bodies. This opposition can arise for various reasons, such as compatibility concerns between the proposed development and the surrounding area.

The Attorney’s Role: It’s not uncommon for developers to start projects on their own, only to hit a wall when they encounter these kinds of challenges. A land use attorney is adept at helping clients work through such opposition, providing you with the best chance of moving your project forward.

5. Limited Opportunities and Land Availability

The Challenge: Land is a finite resource, and market conditions largely control its cost. For this reason, developers often find themselves in a “Catch-22” situation: the perfect piece of land that meets all zoning and regulatory requirements may be prohibitively expensive, or simply not available. More affordable options might come with a host of zoning and regulatory challenges that can complicate the project’s objectives.

The Attorney’s Role: While attorneys cannot control the availability or cost of land, a well-connected land use attorney can use their extensive network and deep understanding of the industry to sometimes share valuable information with their clients. If an attorney knows what business you’re in and hears about opportunities that align with your needs, they can pass along this information, providing you with a potential edge in a competitive market.

Consult an Experienced Land Use Attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer

Navigating the complexities of land development in Montgomery County, Maryland is a challenging endeavor that requires expert guidance. From understanding intricate zoning regulations to managing opposition from community and local governments, the road to successful development is fraught with obstacles. That’s why partnering with an experienced land use attorney like those at Lerch, Early & Brewer can make all the difference. Our team is dedicated to guiding you through each challenge, ensuring that your project not only meets legal requirements but also achieves your business objectives.

If you’re facing challenges in land development and are in need of expert guidance, don’t hesitate to contact us. Let us help you turn the complexities of land development into opportunities for success.