Heres an in-depth explanation of what you need to look at when searching for your dream site for your future veterinary practice, and why.
You've gone out of your way to drive past it too many times to count. In your head, you've called it your baby (and that one time out loud). You're just about ready to do whatever it takes to make it your own. Hold on, says HospitalDesign360 conference educator and veterinary architect Heather Lewis, AIA, of Animal Arts. It may seem like love at first “site,” but is it really a perfect match? Here's what Lewis listed out for us, in detail, to note before you buy the location for your next great hospital.
What are you looking for?
According to Lewis, before you start looking for a site, you need to identify the most important features of the future location of your practice.
Think about your dream hospital. For example, Lewis says almost every business can benefit from good visibility and ease of access-especially for emergency practices. You may also want to think of room for future growth or expansion-and the extra parking that will be needed for either one. Even if you're thinking of a practice located in a commercial shopping center, Lewis says to look for a mix of business there that will draw pet owners and increase awareness of your practice.
Remember that your clients will form impressions about your practice based on the neighborhood and the surrounding environment.
Takeaway: Pick a place that will appeal to your particular demographic.
What's the market like?
Lewis says it's important to know certain specifics about the existing and potential market around a desired site. Here are some of the big ones:
A simple rule of thumb for a good market area for veterinarians, according to Lewis, is a population base of 8,000 to 10,000 households.
Another way to look at your market segment? Think in terms of the profile of the population you're serving, she says. Each population base can make a viable market segment for veterinarians.
Takeaway: Pick a place with plenty of potential clients and a favorable mix of competitors (or absence thereof).
Learn everything hospital design in one place
“Attending the HospitalDesign360 conference was crucial to our success. We were able to ask questions and learned new questions to ask. Ultimately, networking with many different contractors led us to select a contractor there that had extensive experience in building veterinary hospitals.” - past attendee
“We learned the value of maximizing square footage and choosing a layout that improved traffic flow throughout the hospital.” - past attendee
“I had a space to be built 16 months later, but I did not yet know the timeline. This conference was tremendously helpful in surrounding me with already established and successful veterinarians building [similar-sized] facilities. I also connected with professionals I was able to consult with later in my project.” - past attendee
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Is your spot visible?
Lewis stresses that the most important considerations to keep in mind for your site are visibility and access. Can your current and future clients easily find and get to you? Will they clearly see your location? If the answer to either of these is not an immediate “Yes!,” consider another site.
Ideally, according to Lewis, people need to be able to access the site without fighting traffic or making a long detour. Can you quickly describe to clients how to get there?
Your selected site should also be central to the area that you serve. This keeps the public from needing to drive across town. It also makes sense to think about natural geographic boundaries. Rivers, mountains, green belts, freeways or specific neighborhoods can create real or imagined obstacles for the public when they think about visiting your hospital.
This doesn't need to be the country's greatest location for a hospital, just a good one, Lewis says. Look at sites that aren't located on the busiest intersection in the area you plan to serve, but close by. Another possibility is to locate at the edge of your existing community with an eye to where future growth may occur. In both of these cases, the land cost will probably be more reasonable.
Takeaway: You don't need the highest-traffic, most convenient site in town, but visibility and ease of access are important.
Thin is not in
A site that is too long and thin will not create a good site design or floor plan.
Will your building fit?
A simple way to determine this, Lewis says, is to look at what architects call “site coverage.” In other words, your building will cover 25 percent of the site. If your building is 6,000 square feet, your site should be roughly 24,000 square feet (about half an acre-an acre is 43,560 square feet).
If your building only covers 25 percent of the area, what happens with the rest of the site? Lewis says that the other 75 percent of the site is taken up with setbacks, landscaping, parking and room for expansion.
Takeaway: Verify that your site can accommodate the size and shape building you need.
Watch for water
Consider the location of drainage features, such as storm water detention areas. They should be located downhill from the building. These features may restrict your development of the site.
How's the soil?
The impact of topography and soils is often overlooked during initial site selection, Lewis says. A steep, sloping site can cause the driveways and sidewalk to be too steep for handicapped access, make it difficult to keep the site drainage away from the building, and increase the foundation costs.
Soil geology can also dramatically affect cost. For example, it can be expensive to blast out bedrock or remove clay. If the site contains a lot of fill dirt, you'll probably need to remove and replace the fill before you can build. Other site-specific geologic issues include high water table or an excess of organic or peat material.
Avoid these traps by commissioning a topographic survey and a soil report before you finalize the purchase of a site.
Takeaway: A topographic survey and soil report can save you money and trouble down the line.
Can you get a permit?
Local government agencies impose planning and zoning regulations on sites, and over time they've grown stricter, Lewis says. In addition to normal constraints, like setbacks or allowed uses, these regulations can dictate landscaping, site access, availability of utilities, facility appearance and funding of street or utility improvements.
Every town, country or city of size in the United States-with the notable exception of Houston, Texas-has planning or zoning laws and ordinances. These ordinances control:
Oh no-it's an overlay zone?!
In addition to normal zoning issues, many urban areas have “overlay zones,” Lewis says. As the name implies, this is another layer of zoning that affects how a site can be developed and what can be built on it. Some examples include historic districts, view corridors, entrances to urban areas, urban redevelopment and landscape districts. The requirements of an overlay zone can be strict, and the review process can be time-consuming and very subjective in nature.
The time involved in making a zoning or planning application and waiting for the municipality to review it has increased dramatically, Lewis says. Because time equals money, the cost of a planning submittal has also increased. That's why it's crucial to research the regulations that may impact your site before you buy it.
While it's possible to apply for and receive a variance for specific zoning requirements, the goal is to buy a parcel where a veterinary hospital is a “use by right” and where your building will conform to the setback, parking, height and area requirements. In most municipalities, applying for a variance is a time-consuming and costly process, with no guarantees of success.
Takeaway: Before buying a site for a future veterinary hospital, a practice owner must know what the planning or zoning requirements are for a particular parcel. It's never a guarantee that local agencies will grant you exceptions.
Pollution can be a local issue
While there are stringent federal regulations regarding the protection of wetlands and wildlife, the majority of these regulations are local. As such, they have a tendency to vary depending on the makeup of the local population. The review and permitting process in locales where there is a high degree of environmental consciousness can turn into an expensive and time-consuming procedure.
Is it polluted?
Your biggest potential for liability and cost is hazardous waste pollution and disposal, according to Lewis. While most people are familiar with asbestos, there's also the potential for hydrocarbon, heavy metal and industrial wastes. Locations with a history of dense urban development and heavy industry have a higher percentage of contaminated sites.
With the protection of the natural environment becoming a priority in our society, it's important to have a basic assurance that the site you select does not have any hidden environmental challenges. Lewis recommends that you commission the most basic assessment, a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA), to identify environmental conditions that may adversely impact the development of your site.
Wetlands, historic districts, coastal commissions, protected watersheds and urban renewal areas also have regulatory requirements that impact sites, Lewis says. From tideland Virginia to coastal California, local and federal governmental agencies have earmarked certain areas for special consideration and additional regulation. Because of this, Lewis says it's wise to thoroughly investigate any site you're considering to identify such possible regulatory constraints.
Potential hidden costs like these are just as important as the listed cost of the property, Lewis says. For your own sake and for the sake of your organization, she says you should fully investigated all of the potential risks before buying.
Takeaway: The impact of environmental problems with your site can be bad. Do yourself a favor: Get at least a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment.