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Andrew R. Cassano, PLS
William D. Green, PE
John E. Baker

Daniel Hoagland

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Kenneth E. Baker Thomas L. Lott, PE


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All About Subdivisions

The term final map refers to the process of dividing property into five or more parcels (with some exceptions) for purposes of “sale, lease, or finance.” The most common application is that an individual wishes to divide their property for sale.

The final map process has become complex over the years. An early evaluation by our firm is highly recommended. A review begins by checking the City or County zoning to make sure that a subdivision is theoretically possible. In addition to the basic zoning defining the minimum parcel size and frontage requirements, every City and County has a laundry list of additional application requirements and subdivision criteria.

After reviewing zoning, we typically make a field review of the property to look for practical or known regulatory problems based on past experience. Many final maps require that the applicant make road improvements along the frontage of the property, or even off-site improvements. Sometimes the cost of road improvements makes the subdivision prohibitive. If the property is not located on a City or County maintained public road, it is essential that the property also have deeded access easements of sufficient width to fully contain the access roadways. This means that the cut and fill slopes must also fit in the easement.

If the subdivision looks feasible after a field review, we typically begin systematically obtaining any technical studies needed to make a formal application for the tentative parcel map. In rural areas, septic system feasibility testing ( percolation and soil mantle) is often the next step. In Nevada County and in some other jurisdictions, an archaeological inventory and biological inventory are needed prior to making application. These studies might identify resource constraints that have to be protected and avoided during development. Once any resources are identified, we can usually design resulting parcels around them.

The formal application also requires submittal of a current preliminary title report that discloses ownership, financing, and easements affecting the property. If there is financing on the property, the lender(s) will probably have to ultimately consent to the filing of the final parcel map. All of the study information is placed on a tentative parcel map that is submitted to the City or County for formal consideration. The tentative map shows the manner in which we propose to divide the land.

Typically, the City or County conducts its own environmental review of the proposed subdivision and additional studies or information might be requested. The City or County typically provides copies of the proposal to its internal departments, the fire agency, and State agencies like the Department of Fish and Game and Caltrans. All parties are invited to comment, express any concerns, and suggest approval conditions. Often, unforseen issues arise and we will hope to respond to them in a way that maintains the feasibility of the land division.

The City or County staff then develops a list of mitigation measures and conditions of approval that they suggest applying to the approval of the tentative parcel map. Finally, a public hearing is held, after placing a legal notice in the newspaper and mailing a notice to other property owners within 300-500 feet of the subject property. At the public hearing, usually conducted by the Planning Commission, the City or County considers the testimony and objections of any interested persons. Sometimes, additional approval conditions are crafted at the hearing to address public concerns. Sometimes the density of the proposed subdivision is reduced as a part of the process. Some applicants invest the time to talk to their neighbors before applying for a land division. Other applicants feel that it would only give neighbors more time to organize opposition.

In considering a final map application, it is important to remember that approving the tentative map is a discretionary action. In other words, the City or County is not compelled by law to approve the application. However, we find that most applications are successful, if they are well thought out and meet all prevailing development standards.

Once the tentative final map is approved, the City or County issues an approval letter stating the conditions that must be met prior to recording of the final parcel map. An approval is usually valid for two years, and additional extensions of time can be pursued. Typical conditions include the requirement for a field survey and map, setting monuments at the new lot corners, installing water storage or hydrants for fire protection, designing improvements, making road improvements, paying mitigation fees, and pre-paying taxes. Most road or other improvements must be designed by a civil engineer and design must be approved by the City or County, prior to actual construction.

The conditions might require that public water or public sewer be extended to the property if it is available nearby. In many jurisdictions, it is not mandatory that electrical and telephone service be extended, at the applicant’s expense. However, from a practical marketing standpoint, we suggest that these utilities be installed as a part of a subdivision’s improvements.

Most counties require that property taxes be paid a year or more in advance to avoid problems that might be associated with delinquent taxes on all or a portion of the land being subdivided. This is not technically a subdivision cost, but it is a serious cash flow consideration, so we usually place an allowance for taxes in our budgets.

Our firm will assist in satisfying the conditions of approval and we of course, prepare the survey and map, as well as any engineered plans. After preparing plans and maps, we usher the plans through agency map and plan checks, and help obtain clearances from all affected departments and agencies.

Overall, the tentative map stage of an application takes at least four to seven months, and the final map stage takes at least an additional four to eight months. If construction is required, the processing sometimes takes longer because the work must be done during the dry time of the year.

With final maps, it is usually necessary to obtain a public report from the California Department of Real Estate prior to the sale of any parcel. This report is a detailed disclosure document explaining to buyers exactly what is known about the lots. Most of our clients work with a title company to obtain the public report. Some work with consultants specializing in this type of service.

Many subdividers wish to prepare Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&R’s) to accompany their subdivision. The CC&R’s provide additional deed restrictions on the lots that are not otherwise required by the County or City. Such restrictions might set minimum home sizes, set an architectural theme, prohibit hanging laundry in the front yard, and include whatever standards are important to the subdivider. CC&R’s may be prepared by an attorney or the subdivider might base them on a sample from another project.

If roads are to be privately maintained, the City or County will require the recording of a road maintenance agreement to provide for the on-going maintenance of roads, fire suppression water storage tanks, and other common utilities. Sometimes the subdivision forms an official homeowners’ association as a separate legal entity to administer the CC&R’s and maintenance agreements. On smaller projects, there is often no homeowners’ association, but only a working arrangement between lot owners, with some owners volunteering to help with the administration of project issues.

Once all of the conditions are met and the final map is recorded, the individual parcels may be sold separately or used for individual financing. If you have questions about the subdivision process, please contact Ken Baker or Andy Cassano of our firm. We have years of experience with this type of application and look forward to the possibility of assisting you.

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