All About Parcel Maps
The term parcel map refers to the process of dividing property into four or fewer 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 parcel 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 land division 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 land division 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 parcel 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 land division 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 land division 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 land division 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 or Zoning Administrator, 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. 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 parcel 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 parcel 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, 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, to four lots or less.
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 land division 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 three or four months, and the final parcel map stage takes at least an additional three to four months. If construction is required, the processing sometimes takes longer because the work must be done during the dry time of the year.
Once all of the conditions are met and the final parcel map is recorded, the individual parcels may be sold separately or used for individual financing. If you have questions about the land division process, please contact Andy Cassano of our firm. We have years of experience with this type of application and look forward to the possibility of assisting you.