Retracing Boundaries in Platted Subdivisions

There is something magical – almost religious – about creating a new subdivision of land. Before, there was only a single plot of land covered in grass. But now, you’ve laid out the framework where dozens of hundreds of houses, driveways, and backyard swimming pools will be located. Think of the hundreds of miles of power, water, and gigabit internet lines will run. The possibilities are endless!

Once the subdivision has been created, it’s going to take adherence to some important principles to make sure that each property owner’s land is properly “re-found” based on the written intentions of the subdivision’s creator. Luckily there are some great textbooks like Clark on Surveying and Brown’s Boundary Control that teach how to properly conduct a retracement within a simultaneous conveyance (platted subdivision).

The first principle is to always begin with the written record. There are two types of surveys: original surveys and retracement surveys. Original surveys create new parcels of land (think one hundred new residential subdivision lots created from one 25-acre parcel). Retracement surveys simply re-locate existing property boundaries. Retracement surveyors may never change or alter a boundary; the re-surveyor may only follow in the footsteps of the original surveyor by reading the legal description of the parcel in the chain-of-deeds and by reading the original land survey map. A proper and correct boundary survey cannot be performed without fully researching the written record, especially the plat(s) that created the subdivision.

The second principle is to use the “best and closest” available evidence to locate a parcel’s boundary. Imagine that the owner of “Parcel 1, Block B, Shady Pines subdivision” asks for a survey. Many surveyors love to proportion distances (plat vs measured distances). But the four monuments are found that mark Parcel 1’s boundary, then just use the monuments, no proportioning required! If a monument is not found, then use the “closest and best” nearby monuments to reset the missing corner.

The third principle is to work within your block. A surveyor should never proportion outside of a platted subdivision, or even a block within that platted subdivision. This is an important principle for surveyors to follow because using interior boundary lines within a plat to locate exterior boundary lines of nearby properties is sort of like saying that an egg is hatched from a chicken. Not true!

When proportioning is required, never proportion the rights-of-way (roads or alleys). Streets limit the apportionment of excess and deficiency because it is essential that their location be undisturbed. Why? Because the public’s right to use a common element of the subdivision is paramount.

To sum up the principles of boundary retracement within a platted subdivision:

Remember that physical evidence is the best available evidence. Search, search, search for old monuments. If you don’t find enough, keep searching. “re-creating” the subdivision based solely on platted bearings and distances may lead to dangerous results. I love digging and I hope you do as well.

Proportion only as a last resort. Proportioning is easy, but as the old computer science phrase goes “garbage in, garbage out.” If you use unreliable distances to proportion, your new distances will be just as bad.

You can use exterior boundaries of the subdivision or blocks to re-locate interior boundaries because the streets, monuments or other field evidence sets the boundaries of your property. But don’t use interior lines to “re-find” exterior boundaries. It doesn’t work that way.

If you find the source of an error (i.e. a 1 foot bust) in a certain place within a subdivision, keep it, don’t proportion that error among lots in the entire block. An important rule is that a blunder found in the original survey stays in its place.

There are many more important principles in surveying subdivisions. To learn more about them, contact Dr. Tony Nettleman for a free consult call.

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