Construction Drawings to Include in Your Commercial Site Plan Package

In order to get a commercial real estate development project approved, there is a lot of information the development team needs to convey to approval authorities. And that same information is then given to the contractor - it serves as the roadmap for all of the site improvements and horizontal land development.

The site plan is the most common engineering construction drawing (CD) people refer to, but it's only one of many that are critical to the success of a project.

The civil engineering team is normally tasked with compiling these documents during land entitlement for submission and permitting. But one of the major challenges that developers have to deal with is that they're not normally engineers by trade, which makes reviewing CDs for competition and feedback nearly impossible.

So in this video, our goal is to give commercial real estate developers a crash course on everything related to construction drawings.


Guide to the video

  • Commercial real estate site plan submittal packages normally contain various other construction drawings, including utility, stormwater, and erosion control plans, and landscaping and site lighting documents, among others.
  • Depending on the municipality, the site plan and construction drawing permitting process can happen concurrently or separately.
  • Real estate developers aren't normally trained engineers and need to develop the skills to be able to review, critique, and offer feedback on engineering construction documents.

Video transcript follows

Unless you come from a civil engineering background, the first time you really dive into reviewing construction documents, it’s almost like you’re reading a second language.

I remember the first time I submitted a site plan, my civil sent me the submittal package for review and I just basically hand-waved the review and gave it my blessing to move forward. Not only did I not have the experience to offer any valuable insight or feedback, but I could hardly even decipher the plans.

Fast forward to today, a couple more projects under my belt, and I am much more comfortable reviewing engineering construction drawings and navigating the submittal process.

As a real estate developer, you rely so heavily on your project consultants to for the success of your project. But blind faith leads to mistakes, and even if you’ve done your diligence in hiring the right civil engineer for the project, you should trust but verify.

It’s important to have enough knowledge about each contributing field and each of your consultants’ responsibilities that you can offer feedback and make sure the project is progressing positively. The commercial real estate development process is obviously complex, and developers are ultimately responsible for the overall success of a project.

So, in this video, I am going to discuss the various engineering construction drawings (CDs) you can expect as part of your site plan submittal package. I will also cover some tips and tricks for best reviewing these plans and how they impact your overall project.

Stay tuned for all that and more.


What’s up everyone – it’s Matt Marsh with Marsh & Partners.

Marsh & Partners is a development and national consulting firm that helps business owners and investors maximize their real estate and transform their businesses.

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The purpose of engineering construction drawings

Commercial real estate development projects don’t appear out of thin air. There’s a lot of planning and coordination that happens between the development team, project consultants, engineers, and a municipality in order to make a successful project.

And the level of detail that’s required to be codified and presented for permitting before you can break ground is staggering.

Engineering construction documents are the method through which the development team conveys all the information they need to the general contractor, subcontractors, and anyone else that’s going to be in some way participating in the land development.

It’s important to note that there are different kinds of construction drawings. In this video, I’m covering just the engineering documents that are associated with the site plan and horizontal development component. But architectural drawings are another type of construction document that outlines the actual building construction. Architectural plans go through their own design and review process separate from the site plan review.

Your civil engineering team will generally take the lead on the production of any site related construction drawings. However, they will need input from project consultants that participate during the due diligence process – in many cases, stream and wetland delineations are critical components to being able to draft site plans and come up with stormwater management plans.

Engineering teams will also need input from surveyors, geotechnical engineers and soil scientists, city staff and planning officials, environmental consultants, and in some cases septic and well contractors.

As a developer, when you’re assembling your real estate development team, keep in mind the kind of project you’re pursuing and what sorts of real estate due diligence activities need to be done in order to get construction documents complete and projects approved.


The land entitlement, permitting, & construction document review process

Once the site plan or preliminary subdivision plat are complete, they’ll need to be reviewed by the municipality. The construction documents and technical engineering drawings need to be reviewed as well.

Every town, city, county, and state have slightly different requirements and a slightly different process. Sometimes the site plan and construction drawings submittal and review process happen concurrently. Other times, the site plan or subdivision plat are reviewed first, then engineering construction documents are submitted for review.

Depending on the land entitlement and project permitting requirements, you may need to pursue a property rezoning or variance if your use or design doesn’t conform with the in-place development regulations. This will slightly alter the construction drawings review process – normally, the rezoning needs to be approved first before any other submittal happens.

Once the site plan and construction documents are submitted, there are typically several rounds of back and forth between the development team and the reviewing agencies. The agencies will mark up the engineering site documents, offering comments that need to be addressed. Once the real estate developer addresses the comments, they’ll send the revised plan set back again for review.

Depending on the complexity of the project and how challenging the municipality is, you can expect anywhere from 3-5 review cycles before site plan and engineering construction drawing approvals.


Common construction documents you'll include in your site plan set

As with most things in commercial real estate development, the exact documents required for submittal will depend on the municipality and on the specifics of your project.

But there are series of construction documents and drawings that are common across most projects. We’re going to get a little in the weeds here, but it’s important to understand what you should be prepared to review as a real estate developer.

First, there will be a sheet outlining the property’s existing conditions and demolition plan – in other words, what does the property look like currently. This is informed by the survey to show the property boundaries, locations of utilities, any buildings, improvements or impervious surfaces on the site, and the locations of any special considerations like protected trees, stream buffer, floodplains, etc.

After existing conditions, you’ll normally include a document outlining the overall site plan. We’ve written an article on site plans that you can find in our blog – but the major element of a site plan includes all of the changes and improvements you plan to make to the property. Items like any paving and driveways, parking, sidewalks, buildings, retaining walls, setbacks and buffers, location of any stormwater devices, and much more. The site plan gives approval authorities and contractors a comprehensive overview of what the project will look like.

The next engineering construction drawing you’ll find is the utility plan. The utility plan shows the size and location of all utility improvements that will be made to the property. This includes any fire lines or fire department connections (FDCs), water lines, sanitary sewer lines, roof drain lines, gas lines, electrical lines, and storm drain lines.

The utility plan directly informs the grading and drainage plan that comes next. This construction drawing shows how stormwater will be captured and routed through the site. The stormwater detention or retention device will be the water’s ultimate destination, but in order to get it there, a civil engineer needs to come up with a plan, using the planned grades and stormwater infrastructure, to avoid water and erosion on the site and nearby properties.

As part of the grading and drainage plans, there are usually a couple of engineering sheets that show storm drain profiles, an enlarged view of the stormwater control measure, often as an above ground pond, and sewage pumps or risers if the site can’t gravity flow to the existing public sewer line.

The project site lighting plan is another common document. The plan shows the heights, locations, and type of light fixtures on the property. It will also show the intensity of the light on certain parts of the project and building.

Now one of the most important aspects of the engineering construction drawing plan set is the erosion control plan. Erosion control is the process of controlling the movement of dirt and earth around a construction site. As land development occurs, and infrastructure is installed, dirt is displaced as a result. Water pollution and reduced soil quality are big problems that result from poor erosion control. So, to combat this, a civil engineer needs to come up with temporary erosion control plans for the various phases of construction. Those construction documents will even show more details for temporary measures like diversion ditches, sediment basins, outlet areas, etc.

Now, a landscape plan, typically drafted by a landscape architect, outlines the types of trees, shrubs, and landscape features that are planned for the development. Most municipalities have minimum requirements, but developers can elect to go above and beyond those requirements.

It’s common that there will be several sheets included in the plan submittal that highlight sections and details of smaller site features that don’t require their own standalone document. Things like retaining wall sections, concrete bollard assembly details, pavement sections and markings, and other details may be included.

The last thing normally included in a site plan submittal set are architectural elevations. These aren’t necessarily construction drawings, but most municipalities require some idea of what exterior materials you’ll use on a building and how it will look architecturally. In some cases, you’ll also need to include minimal floorplan details to show key safety and interior design features.

I understand I just threw a lot of info at you. But I think it’s important to have an idea of what to expect as part of your engineering construction drawing site plan package.


Reviewing construction drawings as a real estate developer

Since most commercial real estate developers aren’t trained civil engineers, reviewing CDs for not only completion, but also efficiency and cost effectiveness is a challenge.

Trust but verify as they say. As I’ve said before, your engineering and design consultants are wonderful project partners, but the buck stops with you as the real estate developer. But if you aren’t well-versed in reviewing these types of documents, you won’t be able to offer much constructive feedback.

If this is the case, I suggest a couple of things.

First, you can bring on a general contractor early to help with construction drawings review. All of the project’s design happens during pre-development, which is also the time when a developer can begin estimating construction costs. A contractor can help by assisting with reviewing the site plan package, at a minimum pricing the project by estimating the sitework and land development costs, and offering value engineering feedback to make the project more efficient and cost-effective. This is a good way to get a second set of trained eyes on all of the engineering construction documents.

Another approach you can take is through learning and self-study. There is a lot you can absorb by reading and doing your own research. It’s also completely within your right to ask your civil engineer questions about the plan. They may get annoyed and feel like you’re questioning their expertise, but if you approach them humbly, and couch it as you’re still trying to learn, they’ll be inclined to spend some time walking you through the plans. You’re also paying their bills so it will be okay.

If you have major concerns, you can hire a third-party engineer to review the site plan submittal package and any pertinent construction drawings. You’ll want to make sure this isn’t a conflict of interest, but many engineers are willing to consult outside of their contracted projects on an hourly basis.

And last is simply experience. The more projects you have under your belt as a commercial real estate developer, with more variety of municipalities and project types/requirements, the more well versed you’ll be in reviewing construction drawings. It’s obviously a learned skill and takes time to develop, but it’s an important skill developer’s should hone.

If you need some assistance on a project you’re working on, or one that you’re thinking about pursuing, a real estate development consultant may be able to help you through construction drawing production and review. The site plan submittal is a critical to project success – mistakes made can lead to longer review cycles, redesign fees, and carrying costs, or worse, more expensive, less efficient development.

At Marsh & Partners, we’re developers by trade, but consult with small businesses, real estate developers and investors, and landowners to help them achieve the optimal portfolio and real estate outcome.

Check out our real estate consulting services to learn more about how we might be able to help.