I have clients who choose to take this route on a regular or on an occasional basis. They choose to rehab existing structures or use sites that have had previous uses other than vacant ground. This always makes the project a good deal more complicated. I have in the past had to deal with sites that could not meet setback, buffer or easement requirements because existing buildings were placed such that they were in these parts of the site - sometimes because the site had been subdivided and sometimes because the zoning had simply changed. This often leads me to have to file re-zoning requests, special use permit applications or requests for variance. All of these are legal hoops that I had to jump through, but are not really physically hindering.
I have also had sites in the past that had monitoring wells (wells placed on the site to monitor soil and/or ground water contaminants) and buried extras (one urban site had a number of 1950's cars buried under it and one had a deposit of medical waste). I have even had a site where past foundations were discovered under the current foundations that were being removed to make way for the new use. These very physical issues can create a good deal of extra work as my client, sometimes the contractor and I work to figure out how to deal with them.
At the design level, physical aspects of the site should most definitely help to define the design of the site. It is very easy to design the location of a building, associated parking, vehicle and pedestrian access and any additional amenities on a flat site with nothing larger than grass growing on it. The designer is basically then working with a blank piece of paper, a clean slate. It is much more challenging if the site has a major grade change or a rock outcrop, or a water feature like a stream or a pond, or a vegetative feature like a champion tree or an area of woods. To obtain the owner's desired use out of these sites, the designer is challenged to be considerably more creative. The end result, though, can also be considerably more interesting and desirable.
|The entire site was utilized and a pond for fishing and swimming was added as an amenity!|
Don't take the easy way out when designing your site. Take the challenge. You might really like the results. Work with what you have on the site rather than ignoring it.