If you’re looking for land for sale in Northern VA to build a home, then you need to think about flooding, drainage, and environmental regulations that could affect your property.
A great place to start your research is with FEMA’s online Flood Map Service Center, where you can enter your property’s address or coordinates to figure out if your property is located in a flood zone.
After you enter your property’s location, the website will return a flood insurance risk map, also know as a FIRM panel. This map will show you special flood hazard areas. Ideally, you want to pick a property that is located in an area of minimal risk.
Once you’ve verified that your property is not in a flood zone, you can head over to the US Fish and Wildlife Services online wetlands mapper to do some wetlands research.
This website operates in much the same way as the FEMA website, where you can enter your property’s location either by address or coordinates. The website will generate a map with different layers that let’s you see if there are any wetlands on or around your property.
Wetlands can severely affect a sites development potential. If your property does contain wetlands, then you might have to work with various state and local agencies to ensure your plans are acceptable. This can add considerable time and cost to a new construction project.
Wetlands can also affect something as simple as a lot line adjustment or a small subdivision even if you don’t have any immediate plans to build on the property.
Last year I worked with a parcel of land for sale in Northern VA in Fairfax County. The owner had to make a minor lot line adjustment, but the country required a costly environmental study because one of the lots affected by the adjustment contained wetlands.
The next step is to visit the property in person and check for evidence of (1) standing water and (2) excessive water drainage. Water runoff can be indicated by things like small gullies or trenches running through the property. It’s not always a big deal if you find these things, but it can be cause for concern if you find them in the specific location where you’re thinking about building your home.
Protected and endangered species can also affect your development plans. For example, there are federal and state regulations restricting the range of allowable activities within the vicinity of Bald Eagle nests. There are quite a lot of Bald Eagles in Northern Virginia, so this can affect building and development plans in our area.
Also ask your county Planning and Zoning Department if there are any local environmental classifications that could affect your development plans.
For example, in Loudoun County, the Mountainside Overlay District regulates development on mountainsides. If you are building in the mountainside overlay district, the county will likely hold you to a higher set of engineering standards. This can add time and cost to your construction plans. More more information, visit https://www.loudoun.gov/1378/Steep-Slopes-Mountainsides.
In Fairfax County, Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) protect waterways that lead into the Potomac River. These areas often overlap with wetlands. You can consult Fairfax County’s Digital Map Viewer to determine if a particular parcel of land for sale in Fairfax County is within an RPA. These maps show approximate RPA boundaries, but you would have to consult with an environmental engineer to obtain a more precise evaluation.
Finally, before buying any land for sale in Northern Virginia, consult the EPA’s Superfund website. This site tracks contaminated sites such as manufacturing plants and landfills.
There aren’t too many contaminated sites in our area, but I recommend for your own piece of mind that you check to see that you’re not buying a property right next to a Superfund site.
These are some of the flooding, drainage, and environmental concerns you should take into consideration when you are thinking about buying land for sale in Northern VA. As you can see, you can learn a lot about a property using various federal and local resources available online.