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Understanding the Land Entitlement Process

Learn how to navigate the land entitlement process as a developer this year.
Learn how to navigate the land entitlement process as a developer this year.

Purchasing a plot of land is the first step in the process of real estate development and construction projects. However, developers must go through a series of additional steps to legally build on the land and develop it into residential homes, commercial properties, or for industrial purposes.

One of the most important parts of this process is land entitlement, which involves obtaining approval and permits from government authorities to develop a piece of land for a specific purpose.

Are you curious about the land entitlement process? This article will discuss everything you need to know about land entitlement and how you can prepare for it before starting your next project.

Basics of Land Entitlement

Learn about the basics of land entitlement and what's required to developers.

There are several key elements of the land entitlement process, including zoning restrictions, stakeholder involvement, and land planners. Let’s break them down even further and discuss why they are important.


Zoning restrictions are the regulations surrounding the division of land within a local municipality. These laws provide the public with the guidelines that dictate what types of activities or developments are allowed in each zone.

Investors or developers who want to start a project that doesn’t align with existing zoning regulations will need to apply for zoning changes or variances through public hearings and approvals from local authorities.

Stakeholders Involved in Entitlement

Multiple stakeholders are often involved in the land entitlement process, such as:

  • Developers: A developer is the person or group who wants to develop the land for various purposes, often residential or commercial properties. Developers are responsible for navigating the requirements and approval for land entitlement.
  • Local Government: Planning departments and zoning boards are also involved in the entitlement process. They enforce zoning regulations and grant approvals for new development projects.
  • Community and Residents: Local community members and residents may also be involved in land entitlement. In some cases, development projects can negatively affect the community and residents may voice their concerns.
  • Environmental Agencies: If the land in question contains environmentally sensitive areas or the project has adverse effects on the environment, groups like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may get involved to raise awareness of the impact the development project will have on the surrounding areas.

The Role of Land Planners

Land planners also play a role in the entitlement process for new development projects. Also known as urban planners or land use planners, they are involved in site analysis, zoning compliance, community engagement, and permitting for land development.

These planners also work on the design and layout of the development by considering factors like traffic flow, accessibility, aesthetics, and environmental impact.

Land Entitlement Process

Developers must understand the land entitlement process before starting their next project.
Developers must understand the land entitlement process before starting their next project.

Luckily for new developers, the land entitlement process is straightforward and involves four steps to completion.

Pre-Application Phase

The pre-application phase starts with ideation and conceptualizing the development project. Developers start by identifying a piece of land and begin brainstorming ideas for its use while considering zoning regulations and other relevant factors related to the jurisdiction.

After brainstorming ideas for the land’s purpose, developers must assess the feasibility of the project by looking at the financial resources required, local market demand, environmental impact, and land suitability to decide if the project is worth pursuing.

Next, developers start to engage with stakeholders to gather feedback and identify potential roadblocks that could derail the project. They’ll talk with government officials and consultants as part of their due diligence for proceeding with the project.

Application Phase

Once the developers have decided the project is worth pursuing, it’s time to start the formal application process. The application requires developers to include detailed plans for land use as well as reports and documentation showing the feasibility and environmental impact of the project.

If necessary, the application phase is also the time when zoning changes or variances are acquired by developers. Once the application process is complete, developers must wait for the local government to review the proposal and issue a decision on whether they can proceed.

Review and Approval Phase

This phase may take several rounds of reviews before the local government issues an approval. Public hearings between developers and community members may take place to gather input and feedback from the community and interested parties. 

Local authorities commonly negotiate with developers on key details of the proposal. The project design may need adjustments that must be addressed before approval.

After developers obtain all necessary approvals and permits, they receive formal authorization to proceed with the development project. 

Post-Approval Phase

With approvals in hand, the development project commences into the construction and building phase. Developers conduct site preparation and start building structures according to the approved plans.

One of the most important parts of land entitlement after approval is the monitoring and compliance aspect of the project. Developers must adhere to all conditions and requirements specified in the approvals to avoid legal or financial issues from the local government.

Common Challenges in Land Entitlement

Watch out for potential challenges when starting your next project.
Watch out for potential challenges when starting your next project.

Land entitlement isn’t always a straightforward process in practice. Developers often face challenges and obstacles in the way of starting their new development projects. 

Here are some common challenges in the land entitlement process:

  • Budget and Financing Constraints: Land entitlement can be an expensive process, especially for new developers. Obtaining permits and hiring consultants can quickly add up, and many developers don’t have the time or money to spend on these obligations.
  • Environmental Considerations: As we mentioned, environmental safety is a concern for many local governments and community members. Projects that have the potential to pollute the local area or consume significant amounts of energy may face opposition during the approval process.
  • Obstructions and Inconveniences: Constructing new homes that block or impede the view of neighbors is sure to draw opposition. For example, residents living in a home with a view of a prominent landmark or body of water may fight the development of an apartment complex that could potentially block their view.

Final Thoughts

Real estate developers must jump through lots of hoops to get their projects started, finished, and up and running in a reasonable timeframe. 

While it’s one of the least exciting parts of development, understanding the land entitlement process is crucial for developers who want to start a new project and reap the financial rewards.

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