Five Things To Take Into Consideration Before You Start a Commercial Construction Project

By Chris Tilton

Building a commercial project is much different from constructing a house. The process can be intimidating, and the initial decisions you make in the construction process are often the most important.

The right choices will enable the project to run smoothly and efficiently from beginning to end and help you avoid down time and increased expenses. Consider these five things before beginning any commercial building project:

1) Stormwater Management Ordinance.
Most local governments, including the City of Savannah and Chatham County, have regulations to control and minimize the adverse impacts of land development and to control post-construction stormwater runoff rates, volumes and pollutant loads on development and redevelopment sites. If your development process violates the Stormwater Management Ordinance, the local government can order you to stop work, withhold certificate of occupancy, revoke permits and even impose civil and criminal penalties.

Prior to the 1980s, stormwater management simply meant flood control and the pipes designed to convey stormwater runoff to aquatic resources. Little consideration was given to stormwater quality. While this approach worked well to reduce flooding, it did not address the negative impacts that land development can have on the health of the rivers and streams. During the 1980s, communities began to realize, in order to protect these resources from the negative impacts of the land development process, both stormwater quantity and quality needed to be addressed. As a result, in the 1990s, the National Pollutant Discharged Elimination System (NPDES) was enacted, and local communities began to revise and expand their local stormwater management programs, working towards prevention in lieu of mitigation. Chatham County-Savannah’s Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) implemented its local Stormwater Management Ordinance in 2012.

2) Architectural, Structural and Civil Engineering.
Construction jobs require different types of engineers to be responsible for many facets of the project, from designing to planning and managing. The engineer’s role is even more critical on commercial construction projects, which are more complicated and require a more planned and detailed approach.

The first thing to consider is what kind of professionals may be required for your specific project. Some municipalities, depending on the building type, will require an engineer either/or an architect. You will also need a structural engineer for the foundation, an MEP engineer for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing and a civil engineer for the site engineering. When it comes to determining the various professionals that may be required for your project, this is a good time to consult your general contractor. Put them to work for you, to help guide you though this process.

3) Permitting & Timing.
Consider the impact of your plans to construct and develop a realistic understanding of the timing of the permitting process. For example, you must have your plans completed before you can submit them to the local planning commission for approval. Three readings are typical for a development permit, at perhaps a rate of one reading per month. You should also anticipate several pre-construction meetings before you can begin construction. You should also factor in timelines for other permits including right-of-way, temporary power and water meter. Remember, schedules and budgets will likely change and you should be flexible up to a point, but you need to be realistic in determining your absolute latest completion date and maximum budget.

Another item to consider that could impact your timing is how the project may affect current business practices, customer relations, the local community and other businesses. You might want to visit with city council members or speak at a civic organization about your project. You may even want to reach out to the local media. It might be helpful to hire a public relations firm to help guide you through that part of the process.

4) Site Conditions.
This is probably the single most important consideration before starting a commercial project. There is a reason the sites being developed now are the last sites to be developed. As one large Pooler developer put it, “I don’t ever want to hear the words, ‘Pooler Gumbo’ again.” There are different mitigations for each type of foundation. For example, you must mitigate parking areas as well as the building pad. And don’t forget things like flood zones and fill dirt. The latter can cost more than the site itself.

The assessment of site conditions will be instrumental in developing the construction schedule as well as bids. Differing site conditions can cause schedule delays, cost increases and dangerous working conditions. They can also invalidate design assumptions, putting project performance at risk. If you choose a general contractor in advance of bidding, they should be able to guide you though this and other complicated processes. Make sure it’s someone you trust and who communicates well with you.

5) Location, Location, Location.
This is not just a real estate catch phrase. While a realtor can be a good resource for some information, like how much traffic may pass by your door, you will need to learn much more about the property as well as the applicable laws of governing jurisdictions. Is the site in an earthquake, hurricane or flood zone? What is its proximity to wetlands? Here is another good opportunity to turn to your general contractor for their expertise. If you have not yet purchased property for your project, ask them for their guidance is selecting a site that will be the best fit for your building needs, your customers’ needs and your bottom line.

Your general contractor should be a true partner in helping you navigate these initial decisions as well as throughout the design/build process. If your construction team takes these five areas into consideration, it could wind up saving you a lot of time and money.

Chris Tilton is the co-founder of the Dewitt Tilton Group with Andrew Dewitt. For more information or to contact Tilton, call 912.777.3404 or email

Chris Tilton,  Dewitt Tilton Group, a Commercial Construction Company

Chris Tilton, Dewitt Tilton Group, a Commercial Construction Company