If you've been in the infill development community for any time, you've likely heard people say things like "Lakewood is impossible" or "Don't develop in Lakewood". I've heard the likes of this all through my professional career in Colorado. To make matters worse for development, Lakewood passed the Strategic Growth Initiative which limits the number of building permits issued each year.
This post is not going to focus on that initiative. That said, I'd strongly recommend you review the status of the year with your project coordinator at the City prior to purchasing your property.
The best advice I can give a future infill developer in Lakewood is:
"Take your time on the front end. Submit a quality pre-application plan and be meticulous through your due diligence."
"Be paranoid. Be involved and uncover every rock before you get too far into your project."
On the heels of that advice, I'm going to discuss some of the common pitfalls I see projects fall into in Lakewood. I'll also give my thoughts on how to best avoid them.
Fire Department Requirements:
This is the a VERY important aspect of any project you do anywhere. In Lakewood, it is even more important to learn your fire requirements immediately. I recommend doing a meeting/call immediately with the fire department. I'd also make sure you bring a detailed site plan and architectural elevation. Making an assumption about the fire department's thoughts on your project is a quick way to turn your project sideways.
Water District Requirements:
There are several water districts in Lakewood. Additionally, Lakewood Water is their own district. If you are lucky enough to be in Lakewood Water's jurisdiction, they will issue full comments and be a part of the pre-application and concept process. If not, you will need to seek out a meeting with the district upon kicking your project off.
To compound issues, there are areas of the City which do not have good water pressure/flows in their system. Some of which can't serve new hydrants/fire sprinkler lines in areas zoned for multi-family developments. This can be a project killer, and it's best to know before you get too far down the road.
Drainage and Grading Requirements:
Lakewood Engineering doesn't budge. They are consistent and stick to their rules and requirements. They've got a talented group of engineers who are immensely helpful. However, if you go into the process with the mind-set of "we can make anything work", you could be in for shock when it doesn't.
Two big areas to highlight, Grading and Drainage. Grading and retaining walls are not allowed within 10' of the property lines in Lakewood. This commonly creates issues early in a project. Additionally, due to the lack of street infrastructure in much of Lakewood, routing your drainage to the street might not fully solve the problem. I've had projects that needed to improve curb and gutter down the street to avoid flooding a problem home down-block.
If your project has a detention or water quality pond, mechanical pumps are never allowed. Also, due to lack of storm sewer infrastructure in most part of the City, this can make an impossible drainage situation which could kill a project.
My advice: Hire a consultant that's been there before with Lakewood. Use the engineers at the City before you submit your first formal submittal. I've gone back and forth several times before a project is submitted and have found that to be a successful model to rout out all the 'deal-killer' from the engineering side. That's the smart way to avoid these issues.
Lakewood is not easy and it's not forgiving. If you don't uncover everything, projects can die on the table. That said, it's not impossible. You need experienced consultants and you need an ownership group that's committed to staying involved.
The best way to move forward on a new Lakewood project is not to push for an immediate first submittal. Take your time and make a quality, well-thought out first submittal after extensive due diligence with the City and outside entities. And most importantly, communicate early and often with the City, Fire Department, Water District and your consultants.
Raptor Civil Engineering is always happy to help during due diligence to keep your project from making costly mistakes.