When Planners and Engineers Team Up, Everybody Wins

For DJ Hodson, collaborating with planners has always come naturally. Hodson and Langan Engineering, the company for which he works, understand that a community's best interest is served well when design professionals like engineers and planners overcome conceptual challenges as one. This post describes the experience of one senior Langan Engineering employee and why the company finds value in working closely with planners across the country.

For complex projects, bringing a master plan to life demands more than just a bold conceptual vision. It also requires a firm grounding in the technical details of a site, an area where planners and engineers must work together to achieve success.

"Planning lays the foundation for work by a civil engineer, especially in California," said DJ Hodson, PE, LEED AP. "When planners involve us early, we can provide valuable input into critical engineering aspects of the project."

Hodson is a senior principal/senior vice president at Langan, managing the company's West Coast site/civil engineering practice. With over 20 years of experience in land development and redevelopment engineering, Hodson knows firsthand the importance of working closely with planners.

Collaboration helps promote public buy-in by ensuring the master plan addresses environmental, public health, and traffic concerns.

"Planners are crucial to the public engagement process," says Hodson, pointing to Langan's recent work on a proposed multi-phase redevelopment project located on a former landfill in California. The project plans for 200-plus acres of mixed-use commercial and retail space, and addresses questions around human health risks due to factors like subsurface methane gas and water quality.

"Reusing a landfill that's been there for 40 years is a major planning effort that requires significant public input," Hodson said. "The planners were right there in the middle of it, rolling up their sleeves during public works sessions to make sure everybody's voice was heard."

Langan provided technical expertise during these discussions, working to address stakeholder concerns and ensuring full regulatory compliance throughout the planning and entitlement process. Hodson's team also provided site/civil, environmental, and geotechnical engineering support for the project, which included:

  • Conducting phase I and phase II environmental site assessments
  • Preparing preliminary geotechnical and engineering feasibility reports
  • Creating a roadmap to regulatory approval by the Regional Water Quality Control Board and other agencies
  • Providing technical input on the environmental impact report (EIR)

"There was a lot of back and forth on the EIR," said Hodson. "We had really good interaction between the engineer, planning team, and other stakeholders to make sure the wording was accurate, which is important because the EIR becomes a legal public document."

Ultimately, this work resulted in a more streamlined approval process because the team was able to identify potential impacts and proposed mitigation efforts up front. In addition to facilitating public engagement, working with planners early helps address public concerns that are more challenging to address in the design phase and can delay project implementation.

Hodson's work on a new training facility for the New York Jets in Florham Park, New Jersey is another prime example. The team's training facility location sits on a former industrial research site between freshwater wetlands and state open waters. What's more, the project had an extremely tight timeline, which could have easily been derailed by the complexity of site conditions.

"In addition to the wetlands setback and stream buffer, we uncovered previously unidentified issues around contaminated soil that needed remediation," Hodson said. Grading, stormwater management and maximizing usable land were also challenges, since planners dealt with a unique use requiring multiple buildings, playing fields, and parking lots on just 27 acres.

"Fortunately, we were involved early enough in the process to have a solid understanding of the soil and geotechnical implications of the project," Hodson said. "Flushing out these issues early is what kept the project on schedule and set the stage for a successful entitlement process."

Overall, Hodson sees enormous value in working with planners, whether through detailed technical studies or just high-level discussions to start a project off on the right foot.

"It doesn't cost anything to pick up the phone and have a discussion about a site," Hodson said. "A lot of times, engineers already know about the site from an adjacent project or just from being in the industry. It's always better to inform yourself and the planning team at the beginning, instead of thinking you'll deal with it later on down the road."

Top image: Thinkstock photo.

About the Author

DJ Hodson, PE, LEED AP

DJ Hodson is a senior principal at Langan and manages the site/civil engineering practice in California performing services nationally and internationally. He provides expertise in master-plan engineering, site analysis and design, infrastructure assessment and design, hydrologic and hydraulic analysis and design, stormwater management analysis and design, geotechnical engineering, traffic/parking engineering and environmental engineering and permitting.

October 25, 2016

By DJ Hodson