When you want to do a construction or renovation project but you are not sure it is even possible what can a property owner do? This is a situation that many of our potential clients come to us with.

We have developed an approach to help these people called the “Feasibility Study”. This is a “low commitment” consultation that can be done as a onetime low expense  project which can review the following type of items (and more if necessary).

  • Site Size (from City Records–Site Zoning (from City Zoning Map)
  • Existing Building footprint;
  • Existing Building coverage;
  • Allowable coverage by right;
  • Review of possibility of parcel creation given code restrictions;
  • Coverage of neighboring properties to establish community standard;
  • Excess coverage available for new construction;
  • Allowable building height;
  • Current building height;
  • Excess height available for vertical expansion;
  • Required Setbacks;
  • Flood hazard condition (FEMA map of property);
  • Building and zoning implications of the project;
  • Excepts of zoning regulations that pertain to your property and proposed project;
  • Discussion with zoning official (without designating location of property);
  • Other discoveries which may factor into the feasibility of your project scenarios;
  • Recommendations and conclusions.

Don’t worry if you do not understand the meaning of every item on the list. The key thing is that your architect understands them and explains their importance to you. This study allows many very important things to happen: 1) It allows the architect to have a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges that a particular project faces. 2) It collects all the available information for the benefit of both the property owner and architect in one compact location. 3) It allows the property owner to know if the project they envision will be easy, challenging, or extremely difficult to implement.4) Perhaps most importantly, it allows the owner and architect to get to know one another and build the support and trust that must be present for the design process to be successful.

The best time to implement such a study is before the project actually begins. There is money and time that we have discovered a flood, zoning or permit issues that greatly improve our client’s negotiation position and ending up saving them in some cases dozens (or even hundreds) or times the fee of our study.  In some cases we discovered issues so challenging as to save the clients from purchasing a property for a project that would have been nearly impossible (and very expensive) to try to complete.

In any case a feasibility study is an excellent way to explore, at a very low cost, what is likely or unlikely to be possible with a particular site or structure. And, say they say, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed”. If you have a project you are considering in the Rhode Island, Eastern Connecticut or Southern Massachusetts areas, call A4 Architecture and perhaps we can conduct a feasibility study for you!


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Ross Sinclair Cann (AIA, LEED AP) is an historian, educator, author, and practicing architect living and working in Newport for A4 Architecture. He is the founding Chairman of the Newport Architectural Forum and holds honors degrees in Architectural History and Design from Yale, Cambridge, and Columbia Universities.