COMPLETING YOUR HORSE BUSINESS SITE PLAN
You should view your Site Plan as more than a drawing of where to place the tool shed and where to build a fence or run-in shed. It must be a Site Plan that actually guides your use of the land directs you to potential issues and leads to solutions and good building decisions. The Site Plan that you develop for your horse business, particularly for those businesses requiring pasture and arena space, will depend, of course upon the nature, scope, and size of your planned business. A site plan should be prepared for any proposed land-based horse business. The purpose of the Site Plan is to layout the physical development of the business in a manner that does not require you to re-do or rebuild and that is economical and feasible to accomplish. Your Site Plan will take into consideration, and be affected by, many different considerations, including: Weather, Topography, Road Access, Zoning and Construction Laws, Health Laws, Environmental Laws, Availability of Utilities, Current and Future Neighbors, Financing and Lender Requirements, Insurance Company Requirements, and the Suitability of the Land for the Intended Purpose.
Do not assume that agricultural land or rural land is in some sense open for development and free of restrictions. Objections and problems in your proposed development can surface months down the road and come from many unexpected directions. You do not want these issues to surface AFTER you have begun construction or have secured financing (and are making payments while your business is not yet fully operational).
Additionally, do not assume that a real estate agent’s declaration HORSES ALLOWED ends your inquiry. Virtually every real estate website and listing contains the cautionary instruction that everything mentioned in the listing (number of bedrooms, nearby schools, square footage, zoning and permissible uses) should be INDEPENDENTLY VERIFIED--and this means by YOU or those you hire to do this for you.
Even more frustrating can be information gleaned from government officials. You may ask and inquire of someone at the local zoning board or building permit office and receive incorrect advice which is not binding upon the government agency involved. This is true for many reasons. The government worker may not have had the authority to issue an opinion or could have misinterpreted a law or regulation and be wrong (and later overruled or corrected by a supervisor). Again, independently verify even if it requires obtaining copies of the particular zoning or other governmental regulation. Usually these rules and regulations are available at the public library. Tell the Librarian what you are looking for and you will receive help with this.
Finally, even if everything is done properly and correctly, we increasingly see court decisions approving eminent domain actions that effectively take the land (with compensation) for other purposes. Land may be the subject of eminent domain for a variety of reasons including, under present U.S. Supreme Court rulings, for economic development by other individuals or corporations. This will be a rare occurrence the more rural your land is found.
Check future plans for road construction and transportation. These plans may change over time and may take years to construct or be completed soon. Try to find out where and when future road construction will be completed. This will involve more than looking at a road widening. Increasingly in the U.S., moderate sized cities and town are constructing beltways and loops around the city. These plans will offer you opportunities as well as threats. When sections of these beltways and loops are completed, they routinely provide high-speed access around the city and bring many more rural people closer (in travel time) to suburban shopping AND make rural lands more convenient for future subdivision development. This makes rural land costs increase and likely provides more hurdles for the future construction of your horse business. Remember: Developers may have purchased adjoining tracks years earlier and have been waiting for the completion of the beltway segment and these will be people who may file objections to your proposed development. According to the Equine Land Conservation Resource (ELCR), the U.S. loses about 6,000 acres per day to development plans that exclude equine use.
SITE PLAN OVERVIEW AND APPROACH:
There are a number of items to check and questions to ask set out below. However, your Overview and Approach to developing your Site Plan should take into account the key concerns of those who may object to your plans from the start. This will not only permit you to handle objections should they arise, but also require you to develop and implement good practices and procedures from the outset.
Prepare your Site Plan making sure that you can address these concepts and principles:
--Land Stewardship Practices
--Manure Management Plan
--River, Streams, and Wetlands Awareness
These are not only sound operational practices which you should develop and use, but they will be operationally the foundation of laws and regulations with which you must comply. These concepts and catchphrases will also be at the forefront of objections to your proposed facility. NOTE: You may also face future regulation concerning these items.
A failure to address these items will leave you flat-footed in the face of objections to your plan. In this day and age, you cannot afford to open a business without addressing these concerns as they are all part of the playing field.
Additionally, your customers will expect this. As noted elsewhere in this website, there is no need to whine over these requirements. There are two advantageous ways you can benefit from the requirements. First, your (potential) future competition may not comply and may not be able to open their business--but don’t count on this. Second, MARKET your facility as Environmentally Responsible, Green, operating with Sustainable Agriculture Practices, and adopting Recycling Practices. Explain this on your website and actually incorporate training to new customers on ways they can help.
STEP ONE: KNOW YOUR AREA
While you are developing your horse business concept, you should begin thinking about WHERE you want to operate the business. This decision may be easy--it may be on land you or your family already own. You may be planning to continue and expand a family business. For others, you may be looking to operate in an area new to you and that seems to meet the needs of your proposed business.
In either case, you need to Know the Area. Once you have a pretty good idea of your proposed location--at least to an area of the county--take time to Know the Area and learn about this area within a twenty miles radius. Even if you grew up close by, now is the time to drive those old roads and by-ways you have not traveled in some years. These should be your week-end drives. What are you looking for while doing this?
A. Local Towns and Communities: There will likely be several small towns and cross-road communities in this area. Make an assessment as to whether you think they are growing or declining. Buy the local newspapers and see what is going on as well as check the real estate classifieds. See what kind of local businesses are present and active? Do you see new school construction or subdivision growth in a certain direction? Where is the Feed Store, Hardware, Grocery Store, Gas Station? Are these facilities convenient to your proposed business? Check the current census data for these towns. Fortunately, the most recent U.S. Census was in 2010, so you have good information readily available.
B. Transportation: What are the major access roads from local urban centers? Are they speedy and convenient? Look at future highway and road construction plans. Check for road widening and beltway and loop construction that may be planned in the area. Note: This may open up potential sites you were not previously considering if the completion date is near.
C. Neighbors and Businesses: Look at the types of businesses and residences in the are. Do these appear to be businesses that would conform to yours. Look for other horse facilities and homes with horses, cattle, and other animals. Find the distance from sites in which you are interested from subdivisions, shopping centers, schools and other institutions.
D. Water: Locate lakes, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, including wetlands and lowlands you may need to protect or prepare for in your plans.
E. Negative Factors: Research and determine if your proposed are was previously used for activities that may have left environmental issues (for example, previous mining area with toxic waste--including upstream) or negative safety issues (for example, location of a half-way house for sex offenders).
F. Local History: Read something of the history and settlement of the area. You are not doing a term paper, but learn some background. You will discover the names of prominent families, historic sites and events (a great flood?). You may learn that a notorious person lived upon your land or a horrendous event occurred on your creek and there that has a great negative connotation (maybe Hollering Woman Creek [in Texas] Ranch is a bad idea, but Knob Hill Farm would work). There may be widely known festivals that could springboard your marketing. You are looking for things you may need to check further and that give you more insight into the locale.
G. Local Contacts: Begin your local networking immediately. Start with local businesses you come across, particularly feed, tack, hardware, and service stations. Contact local Chambers of Commerce and buy the town weekly newspaper (or subscribe for a year or two if you are very new to the area). You will need sources of information and may need referrals to realtors, real estate attorneys, surveyors, well drillers, plumbers, electricians and many others.
Do whatever it takes for you to get a feel for the area and to Know the Area. You will either feel good or bad about certain areas. These may be almost intangible feelings, but this is an area in which you are thinking about working, building a business, and maybe living. You need to do this in an area where you at least feel comfortable and satisfied. While these perceptions come to us in ways that are not always easy to verbalize, at first, you will develop a perception and either be able to see your business in this location--or not. Do not underestimate your perceptions. They are built upon your age, experiences, and learning. If your perceptions have served you well in the past--they probably are now. You will have time to mull this over, make a second or third trip if necessary, and finally begin to narrow your search to certain areas of the county--even down to a couple of miles. Rank your sites, and begin your next step.
STEP TWO: KNOW THE SITE
Once you feel comfortable with an area and it makes business sense to you as a site for your proposed horse business, now you need to investigate. What are you looking for? You need to know if the area you like has obstacles or issues that may confront your business.
A. Access the Land: Ask the Listing Agent (or Owner if Owner-Listed) to take you to see the land. Walk over it or drive over it. Look for high and low areas and the general condition of the land. Does it appear suitable for pasture forage? Look at any existing buildings or structures. Check for Electric, Water, Sewer, Gas, Telephone, and Cable availability. See if there are current or abandoned wells. Note if there is a house on the property and where it is located on the property. Is it in an area that could be surveyed out of the land if you don’t want the house or is it in the middle of the parcel? Note the condition of any fencing. See if there are creeks, streams, or rivers nearby. What are the neighbors doing on their property?
B. Get a Plat of the Land: Most likely the land you are considering will be listed by a real estate agent who can supply this. The owner, if the property is listed for sale by the owner, may also provide a copy. If the land is not listed for sale, get the address and cross-streets and go to the local property office at the county court house (usually). A clerk will help you copy the plat.
The plat will be a drawing of the land showing survey information. This will give you an idea of the shape of the land, number of acres, and may indicate rights of way or other information. Look for government rights of way on the road frontage that could be used for future widening of the road. Look for access rights across your land, by road or footpath, that may have been granted to neighboring property owners in the past--perhaps to reach a more distant parcel that they own. Find out if mineral rights have been sold and if drilling has been done or is expected. If mineral rights have not been sold, do they convey with the land?
Note: Even if there is a survey filed, it may be inaccurate. You are subject to do your own diligence and can even hire your own survey (this can be costly if a large parcel). If the survey is old, see if there have been intrusions onto the land by neighboring property owners. A fence or building on you side of the property line may not be so easily removed at this date--in fact, the current owner may have forfeited rights to that part of the land.
Make copies yourself and use the plat to begin a general scale layout of your proposed business. Is there enough space for your current and future plans? If you plan to build some day, subtract the acreage for your home (maybe 2-4 acres -- or more if that is your plan). If you plan on boarding horses, will everyone use the same driveway in the future? Locate any roads or parking you may construct as well as have a general idea of barns, structures, manure storage, hay storage, pastures, pond sites, and run-off areas.
C Soil Test: Ask for permission to conduct a soil test. The owner can deny this request--he or she may say that they do not want to ties up the land or take it off the market while you have tests run. You may need to time limit this item--that is, you will have it completed by X days and supply a copy of the results to the owner. If there appear to be former or abandoned tool sheds, have the soil from that area sampled for pesticides, motor oils, and similar deposits over the years.
D. County Agents: Use the local county agents for advice on your soil testing, results, and the suitability of this land for pasturing and foraging by horses. This as important as it will affect your feed costs and the determine the number of horses that you may successfully pasture on your land. If you find that you will likely need four acres per horse as opposed to the two acres you were supposing, your horse population has been cut in half or your feeding costs may have doubled. Make sure your planning is reassessed with this information and that your proposed project remains feasible with this parcel of land.
E. Contact Local Government Authorities: Contact local governments authorities and find out as much regulatory information as you can about your proposed site, including:
Current Zoning Regulations: Is a horse business as you are planning currently permissible? Are there Building Rules and Regulations governing Barn and Other Building Construction? Are living quarters permitted above or adjoining the barn? Are mobile homes or manufactured housing units allowed? Must you tie-in to water, sewer, or gas lines? Must you file a Manure Management Plan? Are there rules or regulations governing or requiring new septic tanks or water wells? Is there any known condition for which the current owner was grandfathered that will not now extend to you?
F. Water: If there are streams or bodies of water nearby, test the water for upstream contamination that may currently exist. Talk to neighbors and well drillers about the costs and suitability of drilling if a well is required.
G. Animals: Determine if there is a current issue with any animals, either as an infestation (fire ants) or troublesome feral population. NOTE: Feral hog populations are currently an issue in many states and present removal issues.
H. Buffer Zones: Objections to the development of horse businesses can come from existing neighbors. Does the land have development buffer zones? How removed is it from planned development or the existence of municipal and township jurisdictions? Do not simply look for the street signs indicating that you have left a town’s or city’s territorial limit. Today, there are a number of extra-territorial jurisdictions (utility districts, city-county planning districts, school districts, development districts and others that exist and overlap traditional county and municipal boundaries. Each such entity may object to your development plans without sufficient buffers.
I. Insurance Restrictions: You will need insurance on your facility to protect you from damage as a result of fire, flood, wind, storm, hail and related conditions. Even if you may legally be able to build as you want, your insurance company may choose not cover your business--or may add insurance surcharges--if you build in a certain manner. Work with your agent to determine if there are policy restrictions or additional charges based upon your plans.
For example, the distance your facility is from a fire hydrant or fire department (and whether it is fully staffed or volunteer), can and will affect your suitability for obtaining fire insurance. Your own fire suppression planning and insurance company requirements may result in all electrical work being performed by a certified electrician (a good idea) and that your wiring be placed within conduits (a very good idea) to protect from chewing by rodents or other animals.
NOTE: Even if you find an insurance company that will write your policy for the time being, remember that insurance companies may choose not to do business in your state in the future or may choose to stop insuring horse facilities. If the remaining insurance companies refuse to insure until improvements are made, you will be incurring unnecessary, additional costs to re-do earlier work.
J. Lenders and Bankers: Your financing will come with conditions. Banks and Lenders want credit-worthy borrowers, but also want to know where there money is going and if it is being spent upon proper construction. Obviously, in the event of a foreclosure, the lender does not want to find itself in possession of a ramshackle barn or other facility. You will likely find that any new construction you are planning will be covered in the loan documents requiring you to build in accordance with local, state, and federal laws as well as to meet published construction standards. These standards exist for Basic Construction, Electrical, and Plumbing Work. There are also basic standards required for Wind Zones (particularly for areas closer to hurricane prone coasts and may exist 100 miles inland).
If you are planning to do your own construction, make sure you that you understand these requirements and that any pre-constructed-structures or kit-structures meet these requirements of the lender.
K. Professional Help: As you gather this information, you may (and likely will) require professional help either through a Title Company or Real Estate Attorney. The Attorney/Title Company will ensure that the seller can deliver full title to the land absent other claims of ownership (will and probate issues, divorce issues, liens and judgments) as well as advise you of recorded easements and rights of way. Your Title Insurance Company will require this.
STEP THREE: REASSESS:
After you have this information in hand, now reassess the suitability of the proposed land for your horse business. You will have time invested and will have incurred some costs, but these costs are extremely minor and negligible in comparison to the costs you may incur by acting without this information. If it turns out that the property you selected either does not work or is too risky, move on to another parcel.
Once you have gone through this process one time, it will be much easier if you must move to another tract. You will be able to make an easier assessment of the next parcel and will not have to re-gather all the information.
NOTE: If your next parcel incorporates an area in a different county or near another town or city, you must begin anew with learning laws, regulations, and restrictions for that jurisdiction.
STEP FOUR: WORK TO BE DONE AND COSTS: Complete your actual Site Plan for your proposed facility. Proceed in a logical and step-by-step process until you have covered all the details that you need to address:
A. LAND PREPARATION: Prepare for grading, driveway construction, gravel, concrete, stump removal, pond preparation, and the removal of diseased or noxious plants. Prepare pastures and arena sites for good drainage. Each of these items must be bid and costs determined. Remove all brush and wood piles or other places that provide habitat for snakes. Mow the area closely and remove all trash, debris and anything else posing a danger to horses or your customers--walk the land if you need.
B. EXISTING STRUCTURES: There could be many different kinds of structures on your land. You need to assess these buildings carefully as they may be capable of re-use or re-location.. Have a professional examine any electrical wiring and plumbing that may exists. If you elect to remove any structure, your best rule to follow would be to Salvage, Salvage, Salvage. You may have sufficient materials left over that can be used to construct a shed, run-in shed, Caretaker’s Cottage, or items that can be re-used in other locations such as flooring, lumber, cabinets, sinks, or whatever you may find. Use your imagination and re-use where you can. If there is simply nothing of use to you, consider running an ad for someone to take it down and keep what they want--you will probably have takers and lessen your workload.
C. FENCING and GATES: Plan and cost your fencing. Your Perimeter Fencing must be suitable to keep horses IN and unwanted animals OUT. Internal Fencing to divide pastures and set areas off may be of many types. Entry fencing may be a better grade or quality than your back fencing if you are looking for a certain impression--and you should be. Determine your fencing needs and costs.
Your Pastures should be set out to permit for rotational grazing.
D. UTILITIES: Plan and site utilities, including water, electric, gas, sewer, telephone, and cable. If necessary, locate the septic system. You have a choice about running utility lines above-ground or underground. Above-ground lines are much cheaper to install, but can be downed in storms and by limbs. If you have a clear line, above ground will usually work fine. Whatever lines are installed underground, bury them at proper depths and mark their installation paths for future reference.
If you are running water lines to pastures, plan to bury them sufficiently deep to be below the freeze line in your area.
Place you street and driveway lighting as well outdoor lighting you want.
E. STORAGE SHED: Plan and cost a storage shed (tractor barn). Whatever construction you undertake, you will need onsite storage. You may look to a permanent tractor shed or garage or you may choose to have a storage container delivered temporarily to the site. You may be removing daily expensive power tools, but some items and materials will be at the site. In all likelihood, you are going to need a shed of some sort anyway and now is the time to locate the shed and how utilities will be connected.
F. CONCRETE, PAVING, and GRAVEL: Plan and cost access roads and parking areas now--complete with gravel at a minimum. If your barns are planned with concrete aisles or stalls, cost your preparation for this work.
G. MANURE MANAGEMENT: Site and plan the facilities you plan to use for manure management. If drainage basins are needed, site them now.
H. ARENAS: Site and plan for your arenas including costs. Arena costs will include the Footing that you want and a drainage plan. These are extra costs that you must consider.
I. LIGHTING: Determine your lighting needs, including arenas. Light your entrance, driveway, parking and determine the outside lighting you may require.
J. LANDSCAPING: You may design windbreaks, outdoor barns, or simply want to begin some early landscaping. Plan sufficiently to leave mowing room around trees and fencing.
K. BARNS AND LIVING QUARTERS: You may decide to build barns and living quarters on the property. Be aware that you will VERY likely be required to supply plans that an architect or engineer has approved. Your drawings and sketches may be excellent, but most all state and county codes will require that the plans be approved by those authorized in these fields. You also will have a County Building Inspector examine the work as it is performed to make sure the work has actually be done as designed.
L. EQUIPMENT: If you will purchase equipment to operate your facility, plan for the storage and maintenance of the equipment.
M. OVERAGE: Your Site Plan may be very well prepared and thorough, but there will probably be expenses you did not anticipate. Plan for an Overage Budget of no more than Fifteen (15%) Per cent of your budget. Your planning needs to be at least this accurate.
STEP FIVE: CONCLUSION
Your Site Plan should end as a formal plan and will probably fill a small loose-leaf notebook. Some of this work can be completed in steps and in a different order than set out here. You may be able to cost your fencing on a per boot basis--knowing the type of fencing you plan to use--and can plug these costs into your Site Plan.
Laws and Regulations can be collected and studied ahead of time.
Arena, Barn, Shed and even Home Plans can be collected and estimates of their construction costs entered.
Complete as much of your Cost Analysis as you can ahead of time. All of these costs will be entered into your Business Plan also.