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As a child I was fascinated by maps. My mom would buy the Thomas Guide every year and I would actually spend hours thumbing through it just for fun (for you young pups out there, the Thomas Guide is what your parents would use to find a Saturday garage sale before GPS was invented). If I had a class in school that involved marking up a map with landmarks, capitols, rivers and mountain ranges, I was confident I’d be acing that project. Dora the Explorer and her map have nothing on me. So how lucky am I, as an adult, to have a job where I can spend time pouring over maps; plat maps that is!

In my day job, I primarily manage homeowners associations versus condominiums. Instead of being focused on the buildings themselves, I find myself more focused on the land on which they are built. I often tell people I am a “plat manager”.

My day is filled with terms like easement, shared side yards, Native Protected Growth Areas, critical areas, ingress and egress, tracts and a whole slew of various LID BMP. What’s that crazy acronym, you may ask? Low Impact Development Best Management Practices.

LID BMP are a relatively new set of land use management strategies that not only mandate development that emphasizes conservation, but implements the use of on-site natural features like bioretention, rain gardens, permeable pavement and rainwater harvesting. Natural site features with which the average board member or community manager may not have experience.

Whats a Plat Map?

A plat is a map, usually drawn to scale, showing the divisions of a piece of land. A developer will take a piece of real estate, or assemble several parcels together and have a survey of the land done to identify lot and plat boundaries, easements, flood zones, roadways, rights of way, critical areas and other important property details. It is part of the legal description of a piece of real property and it is required by a jurisdiction if the land is to be divided for the building of homes, creating parks or setting aside rights of way.

If your eyes are glazing over, fear not! Plat maps are fun and often contain hidden gems of information, especially for your homeowners association. Plat maps detail where you can find various covenants and “rules” put in place for those mysterious critical areas, detention ponds and weird strips of open space that no one can seem to remember who is responsible to mow.

Deed Restricted Plat Maps

For a very short moment in time, I crossed over to the dark side and worked for a homebuilder who primarily built deed restricted plats – or HOAs. Once our company became the property owner, the platting would begin.

Professionals who are much better with numbers and with amazing technical skills like measuring stuff and drawing straight lines would review local city codes, public rights of way, any old easements or covenants recorded on the titles and put together, almost as if it were magic, a plat map. These magicians actually understood where 38 degrees into the northeast quadrant east of north actually was located.

With preconstruction meetings with various planning, building and public works officials, input from specialized engineers and just a little bit of fairy dust… shazam! A preliminary plat map was produced.

The Preliminary Plat Map

A preliminary plat is an approximate drawing of a proposed subdivision. It shows the general layout of the streets and alleys, lots, blocks and other elements of the community about to be built. This draft version of the map is the basis for the approval or disapproval of the general layout by the local municipality.

This document is reviewed by city staff to ensure that the lots are the right size, that the use is appropriate for the area of town in which it is being built, low impact development requirements are met and assignment of who controls what is detailed and agreed upon.

While most declarations will state something akin to, “The common areas include Tract 998 which is a native growth protection area part of which is covered by a Category III wetland area…” the plat map is where the magic happens as it clearly depicts the location of this tract.

The Final Plat Map

Our little preliminary plat map may go through quite a process from here depending on the scope of the project, the city or county in which it’s being built and how many unique features like rivers, lakes or wetlands the area contains. Eventually though, a Final Plat comes forward and is recorded with the county.

This binding site plan is drawn to the scale specified by local ordinance. It identifies and shows the areas and locations of all streets, roads, improvements, utilities, open spaces and any other matters specified by local regulations. It’s first page will contain the dedication language that sets forth the limits and conditions for the use of the land and will detail provisions required for development.

It’s from these limits and conditions that the Common Area section of your Declaration will be culled. Tracts will be granted and conveyed to the homeowners association upon the recording of the map. Emergency, utility and access easements as well as landscaping buffer zones, critical area setbacks and assignment of responsibility for certain portions of the HOA will also be specified.

It’s from all these details that you may happily find that the giant open space that needs to be mowed is actually the responsibility of the city. End Of Article

Next month’s lesson: The Joy of Color Coding your Plat Map using Sharpies.

By Melissa Musser, CMCA AMS

Suburban Growth Practices Director, Trestle Community Management

As the Suburban Growth Practices Director with Trestle Community Management, Melissa focuses on developer and declarant community formation through transition to owners for homeowner and master Associations. As an elected City Councilperson for the City of Des Moines since 2010, she chairs the city’s Environment Committee and brings her extensive knowledge of plat management, low impact development standards and surface water management to the clients she serves. Melissa is part of the Education Committee and in her spare time she is an avid marathon runner. By marathon, she means Netflix marathons that she enjoys with the love of her life that she met at a WSCAI Business Partners Social. So you could say that Association Management truly is her whole life.
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