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Subdivision Control Law. Any person who owns land in Massachusetts and who decides to divide that land, will be subject to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 41, Sections 81K to 81GG which is commonly referred to as the "Subdivision Control Law". The chapter and sections noted above are state regulations, however it is important to understand that most cities and towns have adopted additional regulations governing the division of land. All surveyors who divide land and create new boundaries for their clients must be familiar with both the state and the local regulations in the city or town where the land is located. Because of the substantial variance in regulations between municipalities it would be impossible here to discuss subdivision control in depth. However, there are some principles which are generally common to all local jurisdictions. It is usually not possible to record a new plan in any Registry of Deeds in Massachusetts unless that plan bears the signatures of the members of the Planning Authority having jurisdiction in the town or city where the land is located. There is one exception to this rule where a licensed land surveyor can place a statement on the plan certifying that no new property lines or street lines are being created by the plan. If the proper language is placed on a plan and signed by a licensed surveyor the plan may be accepted for recording.
Approval Under the Subdivision Control Law Not Required. A second general type of survey (Plan) is one which does not require approval by the Planning Board. These plans are sometimes referred to as "ANR" plans which stands for "Approval Not Required". This statement is somewhat misleading however, in that even though the plan may not require approval, the plan must still be submitted to the Planning Board so that the Board Members can make a determination that approval is not required. In other words, you must seek the approval of the board that the plan need not be approved. If this doesn't make a lot of sense to you then you will probably be in good company. In order to qualify for ANR status the parcels being divided must usually contain some minimum road frontage and minimum area. For example, the image at the right shows a parcel of land having 50 feet of frontage and 5,000 square feet of area. If the local subdivision requirements allowed ANR parcels to be created as long as they have at least 50 feet of frontage and at least 5,000 square feet, this plan would qualify as an ANR lot,(assuming that the abutting remaining parcel also had the minimum area and frontage). Generally speaking, the required frontage must be on a public street, although there have been exceptions made for parcels on "ancient ways".
Surveys Requiring Approval and Surveys Not Requiring Approval. There are generally two basic types of divisions which are allowed in Massachusetts. The first type is a survey (Plan) which must be approved by the authority having jurisdiction over subdivision control in the city or town, usually the Planning Board or Planning Commission. These surveys constitute "Subdivisions" which usually involve dividing land into a relatively large number of lots, designing new streets and designing drainage for the streets and lots. The process often begins with submitting a "Preliminary Plan" to the Planning Authority. A preliminary plan is a conceptual plan showing the general outline proposed development including the number and location of streets and lots, etc. Once the preliminary plan is approved, a definitive (final) plan, street design and layout plans, drainage plans, etc. will need to be submitted for final approval. Various other boards will probably be involved in the approval process such as the Board of Health and Conservation Commission. The subdivision approval process tends to be expensive and time consuming and it will require the property owner to retain both a land surveyor and a civil engineer. A person desiring to navigate through the subdivision process may be well advised to seek legal advice in order to be certain that all applications and notices required by law have been properly and timely filed.