Engineering Services to Best Fit Your Custom Home
Perhaps the best part of a Regency built home is how perfectly it fits into its surroundings. Our clients understand the importance of a perfect piece of land, sunlight pouring in the windows, and caring for the environmental demands of living on a lake, conservancy, or other great property.
Because of those critical elements and the ever increasing regulations at both the local and state levels, the home building process begins long before we ever break ground, leveraging the knowledge and skillset of the team at LandMark Engineering Sciences, Inc.
From geotechnical studies to permitting and surveying, our partner Mark Augustine, PE, PLS, CHMM, at LandMark Engineering Sciences helps ensure the proper technical and regulatory concerns are addressed before, during, and after the building process. With a background in civil, environmental, geotechnical, and agricultural engineering, Mark’s extensive knowledge across the sciences ensures that when it comes to land development, no stone goes unturned…literally! Today, Mark shares with us some of the elements of their work and how important it is to consider the engineering aspects of land development.
New Construction Permitting & Zoning
Obtaining a permit in a new construction subdivision is easy for a homeowner…as the land developer has typically done the hard work on the front end. The zoning is in place, the lots are recorded, and the process is somewhat turnkey. In stark contrast, permitting for a property on a lake, conservancy, tear down situation, or other unique piece of land is a complex and ever-changing process. Because most Regency homes are not your typical “subdivision” home, the LandMark Engineering Sciences partnership helps us make the permitting process as smooth and uncomplicated as possible.
“Few people know that permitting happens across four separate layers of control: The US Army Corps of Engineers, the State DNR, County requirements, and local municipalities. All of which have a say in the process,” explains Mark. A combination of knowledge and relationships, Mark works hand-in-hand with all four groups as well as the Regency team to ensure success. “From reviewing and submitting building plans early in the process to regular attendance at state DNR and local planning commission meetings, we get a better understanding of changes in regulations which helps us avoid surprises throughout the building processes. Together we know and can appreciate the nuances of each level of control and help homeowners successfully navigate the necessary permitting and zoning for their new home,” he continues.
Geotechnical Studies & Soil Testing
A beautiful site is not always an easily buildable site…and that is why Geotechnical studies are so important. Designed to evaluate the physical properties of the soil and rock, geotechnical studies give our team a better understanding of what to plan for during excavation and foundation work, as well as the long-term impact of building on the property.
One of the most common aspects of the geotechnical evaluation is soil testing. During this process, Mark and his team look for issues like seasonal high groundwater which may affect the grade and design of the basement. “Few people understand that it isn’t just groundwater, but also the load bearing capacity of the soil that we must examine. Different compositions of the soil – be it clay, stone, sand, or other geological elements – will bear different vertical and lateral loads. We must understand the native soil capacities so we can design a foundation and backfill necessary to support the structure for years to come,” Mark shares.
Another important element of soil testing has a direct impact on the building process and plan approval. Newer Waukesha County ordinances require that any site with seasonally high groundwater indicators must involve an engineer in the design of the footings. A system must be designed, inspected, and certified by Mark or another engineer to not just support the structure, but allow for drainage should the seasonal groundwater reach the footings.
Environmental Concerns During Construction
Wetland designation. Stormwater infiltration. Erosion control and permitting. The list of environmental controls and regulations that impact new construction is endless. It’s estimated that environmental permitting and impact fees have added nearly 3 months and $20,000 to the new construction process in the last ten years. That makes it our business to understand them, get involved, and ensure that we operate in a prudent yet efficient manner to help our clients navigate environmental concerns during construction.
Because many Regency homes are built on or around lakes, rivers, and wetlands, we regularly plan for these sensitive areas of construction:
- Stormwater Infiltration – There are limits on the percent of impervious surface areas a lot is allowed and a tight lake lot with a large home can cause some challenges.
- Stormwater Runoff – Working hand-in-hand with the landscape architect, we plan for stormwater runoffs while controlling aesthetics.
- Erosion Control – Sloping lots allow for walk-outs and create attractive settings for a home, but proper erosion control throughout construction and landscaping is essential to prevent negative impacts to nearby waterways and wetlands.
- Easements & Deed Restriction – From stormwater pipes to other utilities, easements and deeds often must be granted to the municipality, living in perpetuity for years to come.
- Post Construction Examination – To ensure compliance, owners often must place a bond with the municipality. Upon completion of proper construction, an inspection is conducted and the bond money is returned upon certification of the intended design.
Helping Guide Building Code and Permits
Involvement in the permitting process and protecting our environment is key! Both Regency and LandMark Engineering Sciences are committed to the ongoing protection of our natural resources, while understanding the business of construction that codes and permits impact. At Regency Builders, we believe in getting involved and are very supportive of thoughtful, well-planned building codes on lakes such as:
- Viewing Corridors – We embrace current viewing corridors, approximately 30% of the width of the lot.
- Height Restrictions – We appreciate the changed height restrictions that now eliminate towering structures that disrupt site lines.
- Tree Replacement – We are in favor of the current strategy to add 1-to-1 tree replacement for native tree species.
- Grading Plans – We are supportive that each home must have its own grading plan to protect neighboring properties from surface water runoff.
- Silt Control – We are in complete support of erosion control requirements, preventing silt and stormwater runoff into the lake or other environmentally-sensitive areas.
On the flip-side, there are times that code changes and permits do not necessarily make business sense, and we seek to get involved and advise accordingly. Sometimes this is simply a case of jurisdiction, such as a recent scenario where local municipalities sought to “trump” the more lenient County requirements for side yard setbacks. To protect the interests of the homeowner, Regency and LandMark Engineering Sciences work diligently to ensure the 8’ minimum setback was allowed rather than the 20’ requested by the municipality, allowing for a much wider home to be built. And, in doing so, the Regency and LandMark team helped set the County accepted precedent for all lake owners to enjoy.
In other cases, our involvement helps guide items that are “up for interpretation” such as a new interpretation that flat roof boat houses must use rubber roofing materials, as opposed to previously allowed decking materials. In these situations, Regency works tirelessly to inform and help guide interpretations that are homeowner-friendly, while compliant with codes and ordinances.
As the chair of the Metropolitan Builders Association Developing and Government Affairs Council, Mark is also actively involved in Wisconsin DNR, regulatory, and local building code issues. His first hand involvement has helped guide decisions that impact the home building process every day. “As an engineering professional, my goal is not to eliminate regulation – it is an important element of protecting our natural resources. Instead, I hope to work with different regional, state, and national governmental bodies to simplify and clarify the environmental regulations. By achieving this, people will be more inclined to adopt and embrace these good practices, protecting both our natural resources and the homeowners who are building on these sites,” states Mark.
One such example is the new Wisconsin Wetland requirements, enacted on July 1, 2018. Permitting was previously quite strict, delaying the construction process and requiring special permitting on all properties within 75 feet of a wetland. The new requirements created several exemptions, helping expedite construction on less sensitive state designated wetland plots such as areas under 1 acre in size, land being developed for the construction of agricultural structures, and construction on an artificial wetland. While these new exemptions apply only to state designated wetlands, future roads are being paved too with the US Army Corps of Engineers to shift wetland designations from the federal to the state level…further simplifying the permitting process by allowing more localized control of the properties.
Another example of simplifying environmental regulation is the implementation of an extended delineation period of 15 years. “Just by extending this expiration date from 5 years to 15 years, developers and builders will save significant time and money on projects that have been stalled in recertification of the wetland status,” Mark shares.
Special Considerations at the Hillcrest and other Lake Homes
Like any other property built on a lake or river, the Regency Hillcrest required special planning and permitting following the Chapter 30 statute.
“As a lake home builder, Regency understands the unique aspects of construction on a lake. The application and approval process is more rigorous, as is the engineering and design of the home,” Mark shares. “Together we work to control disturbances during construction, avoiding runoff of sediments and other pollutants into the waterways,” he continues. In the case of the Hillcrest site, the Pewaukee Lake land was controlled by both federal and state bodies, requiring that we seek approvals through both the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin DNR.
Original plans called for a pool in back, that combined with the walk out basement posed unique engineering challenges we had to address early in the process. From building on a hillside above the existing grade to working with the landscape architect to plan for extensive retaining walls, the process began long before we broke ground.
The long standing relationship between LandMark Engineering Sciences and Regency Builders is all about planning. The engineer in Mark appreciates the efficiency and attentiveness of our team, while we rely on him for expertise early in the process.
“When it comes to building a custom home, homeowners want as few surprises as possible. Regency pays more attention than other builders on the front end, and regularly attend planning commission meetings to build relationships with the municipalities they serve,” Mark states.
Preliminary review of a site and work with municipalities and the planning commission starts during the offer to purchase the land, not afterwards like other builders. This allows our team to give homeowners a complete picture of what they are up against. “Even the most picture perfect piece of land deserves a big picture approach,” Mark continues. “It helps us tell homeowners what to budget for now, eliminating costly surprises down the road.”
About LandMark Engineering Sciences
LandMark Engineering Sciences offers 25+ years of professional consulting experience in land development and site improvements. As President and Senior Project Manager, Mark is responsible for overseeing and/or conducting project technical and regulatory aspects, effectively communicating with clients, managing project budgets, and schedules. After Mark retired from landing jets on aircraft carriers in service for our country, he became an environmental and civil engineer. The Regency and Augustine families have known each other for nearly 50 years, which doesn’t hold us any less accountable when it comes to our work!
Projects successfully completed include environmental investigations and remediation, infill sites and brownfield developments, geotechnical explorations and structural foundation designs, civil site planning and engineering, land surveying/topography/subdivision designs, and compliance permitting for public infrastructure, commercial, industrial, institutional, and residential developments. In addition, Mark’s background includes environmental assessments, wastewater permits, storm water management plans, pollution prevention planning programs, slope and bank stabilizations, and emergency spill response.