Plat Modifications – Building Insider Magazine

BIA | Building Insider Magazine
Volume XXXIII, Issue 2

As more and more redevelopment is undertaken within some of the more seasoned areas of the central Ohio community, questions arise and issues are presented when redevelopment requires modification to an existing plat. Significant questions and issues arise particularly where the plats date to early in the nineteenth century, and contain limited information, are difficult to read, and lack precise dimensions. A common example of this occurs when two smaller and older existing residential homes are acquired and razed for the purpose of building a larger more opulent structure across both existing lots. Assuming the same occurs within a platted subdivision, there are not only zoning issues regarding setback lines, but there is also the distinct likelihood that platted setback lines and utility easements which were originally intended to only encumber the perimeter of the lots would now run through the centerline of the combined lots. Many times these subtleties are not appreciated during the planning processes and only occur after the title company produces the plat or when the governing authority rejects the plan submission. Fortunately, many governing authorities including both municipalities and counties have attempted to simplify the process for adjusting a plat to accommodate the newly intended use. However, before reviewing the options that may be available, the issue needs to be presented.

Recall, that a plat is tantamount to a restriction filed of record – it is not in and of itself a zoning restriction or zoning issue. Thus, modifying a plat requires the same type of undertaking as modifying a set of restrictive covenants except, unlike a set of restrictive covenants which typically provide a threshold and process by which an amendment may be undertaken, the plat documents themselves almost uniformly do not provide such a process. If it were not for specific ordinances promulgated by the various governing authorities that allow for an expedited process, an argument could be made that a full plat modification would need to be undertaken. This may require serving all property owners that are subject to the plat itself. This can be particularly disconcerting if the applicable governing authority has no specific ordinance that would permit the expedited process for addressing the same.

In the central Ohio area, Delaware County has a specific ordinance (205.06) that provides for an administrative process to accomplish plat modifications. It (as do other similar ordinances passed by other counties) generally requires a review by the County Engineer to assure that any utilities that might be located within any such easement are properly relocated prior to a plat modification and that any proposed modification to the setback line(s) would not create an inconsistency within the neighborhood. However, once determined and if recommended, direct action may be taken on the matter by the County Commissioners without any further direct notice to all of the residents of the subdivision. Franklin County, on the other hand, does not seem to have a firm policy on revisions to recorded plats. They are reviewed on a “case by case” basis. The guiding rule is, provided there are no boundary changes to the plat, that they may permit the same through an actual zoning variance as opposed to a plat amendment approved by the County Commissioners.
Not all counties are as receptive to the concept. Fairfield County has County subdivision regulations that deal with (as most do) and regulate the amendment of a recorded plat, but it requires that all plats be approved by the Regional Planning Commission at one of its monthly meetings without exception.

As always, we as an industry want the excitement of building a new home to bring joy to the customers. However, be wary when undertaking a redevelopment where lots will be assembled within an existing subdivision and building structures constructed over old lot lines. You should immediately research the governing authority’s requirements to eliminate existing easements or setback lines that would otherwise encumber the newly constructed home. There is nothing worse than being in the unenvious position of bickering with a title company at a closing over what can be done to ensure your customer would not suffer from the failure to undertake the same (sadly, that discussion usually ends with seller/builder providing substantial indemnification which typically remains in place until a post-closing resolution can be provided – if such an option is even made available). As always, be cautious.