Ask A Question

How long can the entitlement process take on a major U.S. real estate development?

We are an established Chinese developer that has been presented with a ground-up construction deal in Seattle. We are trying to create a proposed timeline for the project from design through stabilization. However, we are not very familiar at all with the U.S. processes for getting approval from the local municipality. How long can this process take? What steps can we take to help expedite the process?

  • Seyfarth Shaw LLP Real Estate Group
    March 06, 2018

    The entitlement period will vary enormously based on the specific location, the governmental entities involved, public support or lack thereof, size of the project, etc. 4 months to 2 years would be a useful starting range depending on these factors.

  • Carlton Group
    March 06, 2018

    Each municipality can vary drastically. You can hire an expediter for the process.

  • Anchor Real Estate Capital
    March 06, 2018

    Each state is different in terms of entitlement process. But in general, the West Coast is pretty tough. It could be as a few months or could be a few years. This is the biggest risk factor for a foreign developer who is not familiar with local rules and processes. I would suggest you be really careful before investing big dollars in a project without proper entitlement.

  • Seyfarth Shaw LLP
    March 06, 2018

    The process does not have a definitive timeline because each municipality has its own docket. In general, from start to finish, the entire process takes approximately 1 1/2 years. Advanced planning of the zoning and community service issues is one way to help expedite the process.

  • WenWinSolutions
    March 07, 2018

    This is where you’ll need to hire a professional to help you through the process, as entitlement is part procedure and part art. Depending on the project location and whether any government/city/municipality are invested or involved in the ownership of the land, you can expect 6-8 months to 2-3 years for your timeline to complete.

  • SPC Advisors, LLC
    March 06, 2018

    There are no generic answers to this question. If you are in Seattle, you need to engage an advisor who can assist you, who is well-versed in the local zoning and other laws. You need to start with what is as of right under current zoning and go from there.

    March 06, 2018

    When you said "Seattle," what specific areas were you referring to? The Seattle MSA covers the city of Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Kent, and Tacoma. If you are referring to the city of Seattle, the entitlement process at this point can take 2 years or more. If you are talking about Bellevue or Kirkland (we call it the "eastside"), the entitlement process may take about 1 year or so. Entitlement can be political in the sense that if your project is prioritized by the municipal government, they might work with you so that you can sort of "expedite" the process. That being said, given the real estate boom in the city of Seattle, I honestly don't think any developer (other than perhaps those bankrolled by Amazon) can expedite the process. For the less affluent areas, you might be able to expedite the process if you build affordable housing. Even so, there is absolutely no guarantee that you would be able to expedite any entitlement process because eventually the city has to make sure that your plans are compliant. If you hire an inexperienced or irresponsible architect, you might end up with lots of back and forth with the city that prolongs the process. Acquiring a development site requires due diligence research in many aspects of the projects. Though attorneys can advise you about the legal ramifications, for foreign developers who are doing this for the first time, you should form a team that consists of at least an experienced architect and a market analyst that tracks the local supplies and demands. For some sites you might also want to consider getting other specialists on board, such as environmental specialist or land use attorneys. On the other hand, because it's a seller's market in Seattle, you should make sure that these people can coordinate with each and produce reports in an expeditious manner. A lot of sellers aren't interested in offering you a long feasibility period.

  • Greenberg Traurig, LLP
    March 06, 2018

    Unfortunately, the answer to this question will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, usually at the county or municipal level, where each will have different zoning rules and regulations and processes. The first question you need to answer is whether the project qualifies as an "as of right" project such that you do not need to obtain a variance, exception or change in the zoning, as those things can add a lot of time to a project moving forward. Even if you do not need to get a variance or zoning change, you may need a site plan approval or other approvals before you can apply for building permits, which is the last stage of a process before construction begins. I would strongly recommend you speak to a local land use expert in Seattle to answer this specific question about time frame and process, as well as the likelihood of success, and do the same with a local expert in any other jurisdiction for other projects upon which you may embark.

  • SVN (Sperry Van Ness) - Rich Investment Real Estate Partners
    March 11, 2018

    Zoning laws and entitlement regulations will differ city to city. Typically the whole process may take 6-8 months according to my sources in Seattle.