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Subdividing Land

Subdividing Land

A Simpler Way of Subdividing Land

Simple land division

Simple land division

This successful subdivision of a single 20 acre parcel into four 5 acre parcels occurred in a rural county that allowed a method of land segregation for a qualifying property and individual, lawfully avoiding the short or long plat process. This alternative was provided for in the county Comprehensive Plan for Land Divisions and was found through a review of it. Note that in this example there were qualifying requirements for both the landowner and the land itself. 

Background

My client and his wife had sold their “too big” home on the mainland and moved to a smaller one on an island in a rural county. He had the means to buy a nice waterfront home that offered spectacular, unobstructed salt water views. The waterfront lots were platted about 60 years before, so they were long and narrow as was customary at the time. The result was that he didn’t have enough room on the land his home was on to store his “stuff”.

His solution to the personal property storage problem was to buy a twenty-acre parcel across the county road that was separate from the waterfront home site. His plan was to construct an outbuilding capable of storing all of his toys. He had some other creative ideas to make the parcel into his own private park, since it was forested with mature fir and cedar trees and a year-round stream meandered through a ravine along the north property line.

My client was a self-made, active and energetic man and it didn’t take long for he and his wife to become island bound and restless. They eventually decided to sell the home and move back to the mainland. Having a good eye for opportunity and being in no rush to sell it, he kept the 20 acres to have me subdivide it using the county Simple Land Division process we had previously heard about from a local surveyor..

Key Details

The chapter relating to Simple Land Division within the county subdivision code specified that Simple Land Divisions were for land owners who only had a rare occasion to divide a property, and specifically not for developers. They made sure of this by putting in place certain limitations: 

  • The property must be contiguous and held under the same, or substantially the same ownership for 5 consecutive years.

  • The property could not be an extension, or part of an existing subdivision.

The proposed lots had to conform with allowable zoning density and there were provisions for compliance with the comprehensive and environmental policy plans of the state. A simple checklist on the application form ensured all the bases were covered before submittal. The checklist required, in part, a map page, current legal descriptions of the original and new parcels, conformance with existing zoning, any existing utility infrastructure, existing or proposed easements, water and sewage availability and a proposed building envelope.

Submittal / Review / Approval

The client held the property for the required five years, plus a month or so. I was ready with the completed application with the necessary attachments listed above. The application was to administratively subdivide one 20 acre parcel into four 5 acre parcels based on meeting the qualifications listed above.

The Planning Department administratively reviewed the application for compliance and there were no public hearings or reviews typical of formal plats. It took about 2 months to receive approval for the new lots and I received no questions or notices from the county staff in the meantime. It was the closest I have ever come to an “across-the-counter” land division.

Summary

The initial action step was to review the subdivision code to find if there were alternate ways of segregating one large parcel to maximum allowable zoning density, thus creating additional legal parcels.

I have never seen a Simple Land Division process in any county that wasn’t rural and don’t confuse this with boundary line adjustments, which most counties allow in some form. It is my opinion that some rural counties recognize that their constituents may be more land than cash heavy and may need an expedited way to segregate their land with minimal entitlement hurdles and associated cost.

At the same time a thorough understanding and compliance with the applicable state and local laws is necessary, since simply creating a subdivided parcel does not necessarily equate to a lot that can be approved for building or another intended purpose. In the example I just gave the county was mindful that they were dealing with novices for the most part, so the application checklist helped to prevent  problems during review and in the future when applying for building permits.j

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