Subdivision platting is the process of splitting one larger piece of land into several smaller pieces of land. Generally, this plat, or map, is drawn for the purpose of selling off the smaller pieces of land. These pieces of land are frequently built upon before being sold, often by the same home builder – which explains why so many neighborhoods are filled with similar looking structures.
Typically, a land surveyor, hired by the developer responsible for building upon the land once the plat is approved, will create the subdivision plat. The completed plat shows the divisions of the pieces of land and the distance and bearings between each corner of land. In modern subdivisions, these maps may also include new roads that exist between sections of land where none did before. Plat maps also include the setting aside of part of the property for easements, parks, areas needed for flood protection or other public uses.
Subdivisions platted correctly ensure compliance with zoning regulations. Such regulations commonly act to restrict the individual lot sizes or lot geometry. In addition, before a plat can actually become legally valid in most jurisdictions, a local governing body, such as an urban planning commission or zoning board, must review and approve the plat map. While a subdivision can technically be created for any purpose, in practice it is almost always created with the purpose of placing a single home on each land. Such neighborhoods are referred to as “subdivisions.”
In Minnesota, and most states, subdivision platting is governed by local ordinances. The particulars of these ordinances vary by locality, but there are certain statewide laws that govern them all. For instance, in seeking approval of a plat, a township or other authority is bound by Minn. Stat. §15.99 which gives the reviewing agency 60 days to deny or approve the request or the request is automatically approved.
Furthermore, the judicial review process of a local authorities decision to deny a plat is consistent throughout the state. For instance, one common issue arises where a “preliminary plat” is approved and then that same local authority determines to deny the “final plat.” In certain situations that authority can be equitably estopped from revoking that final approval.
A local government exercising its zoning powers will be estopped when a property owner, (1) relying in good faith (2) upon some act or omission of the government, (3) has made such a substantial change in position or incurred such extensive obligations and expenses that it would be highly inequitable and unjust to destroy the rights which he ostensibly had acquired. Save Lantern Bay v. Cass County, 683 N.W.2d 862 (Minn. App., 2004).
To establish the existence of “extensive obligations and expenditures,” the property owner “must demonstrate expenditures that are unique to the proposed project and would not be otherwise usable.”
For example, in Ridgewood Development Co. v. State, 294 N.W.2d 288 (Minn., 1980), $250,000 was spent in preparing for the construction project. The court found however, that equitable estoppel was inappropriate as there was nothing in the record, that suggested that all of the preparatory expenses were incurred in relianceor that the actual reliance expenses are irrevocably lost if the project cannot be funded through the issuance of industrial revenue bonds. There is a tendency for the value of land to increase, and the plaintiff did not demonstrate that there was no other way in which the land could be profitably used.
This is just one of the issues that might arise when dealing with platting and subdivision laws in Minnesota. It is important to contact an attorney at the moment any potential problems arise. Not only will an attorney protect your rights, but their very presence will serve to encourage a local authority to think twice before taking steps that might derail a project.