If it ain't broke, don't redevelop it

It never ceases to amuse me that everything in the Northeast is an "authority." They aren't just any old redevelopment board or department or committee or office; they're the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

I suppose it's a good thing that I can at least be amused by the little things, because I was just told by the Boston Redevelopment Authority that my driveway and side yard actually belong to the city and that I'm parking illegally on a public way. I think my lawn also might be trespassing, though we didn't discuss that.

I've been working with members of the neighborhood associations over the past few days, opposing the plans to build a home on the two tiny parcels of land at 2 and 3 Highland Terrace. Where exactly is Highland Terrace? Well, the City of Boston Assessing Department (not authority?) search engine and interactive parcel map shows the two parcels as being surrounded on all sides by other parcels, including the one on which I own a home. There is currently no street named Highland Terrace, and there has not been since the 1930s. These parcels, which have been vacant since 1932, still have an address on Highland Terrace.

So, one small part of the issue we neighbors had with this construction was wondering how the property would even be accessed by the owner, let alone how construction equipment or emergency vehicles could get back to this little parcel wedged between my house and a cliffside. When I was on the phone with someone at the Zoning Board of Appeals yesterday, she told me that there are not parcels of land in the city that do not abut a street, because this just doesn't happen. I described to her where this parcel is in relation to mine and others. She again stated that it could not be surrounded by parcels like I described, and had to abut a street.

She finally pulled out a map and told me that the parcel did in fact abut a street. We spent about five minutes discussing this, her describing the map and me describing how the lots and the street actually are. We finally arrived at the conclusion that this street actually lies in my side yard, where there is currently a paved driveway on which I can park, a small lawn, and some shrubbery. The street has not been maintained in decades, since there was no reason to do so, and the area that I thought was my yard is in fact city property that became a de facto yard once vegetation grew in and it started looking like, well, a yard.

The deed to my home (the third floor of a three-decker) only has the floorplan for the third floor and the roof (which I also own). It does, however, state that there is off-street parking deeded to the unit. Since the house touches the property line on the left and front, and is very close to it in the back, there is actually not any off-street parking if I do find out that the city is correct and the driveway to the house is city property. This would mean I was sold property that does not exist. Fortunately, I have title insurance.

I'm going to the Registry of Deeds this afternoon to look at the master deed for the lot and see if the survey of the lot shows that that land goes with our parcel or not. If it shows that it belongs to our parcel, this will mean a battle with the city. If it doesn't, then this means I was knowingly sold property that doesn't exist, in addition to not being informed about the plans to build that house and road, which the Boston Redevelopment Authority states the seller knew about at the time I bought the house.

Whatever happens with the deed issue, I just hope they don't end up wedging a house into an already dense neighborhood and putting yet another maintained road into our winding maze of narrow cowpaths.


Anonymous said...

Oh holy freakin gord, eeka. Oh man. This does NOT sound good.

I'm worried for you. Keep us posted. Good luck and fingers crossed.


timlav said...

You might discover that your driveway and side yard exist on paper and are referred to as a paper street. One would hope that it would have been marked on a lot plan at sale, but one can only hope.

Worse yet, depending on its age, it might qualify as an ancient way. That has a legal definition all to itself. The 'burbs deal with them more that the city, as you might imagine, and builders tend to use something that has been nothing more than a foot path for hikers for a century as a qualifying road to build a landlocked subdivision.

I wish you luck. Keep your wits about you. Everyone working to build those new houses is an expert in finding these niche properties and unique ways to qualify for construction. It might be best to consult a lawyer, which I think might ultimately be paid for through your title insurance.

Josh said...

Another thing to consider: As a general rule, if a parcel *is* landlocked (even though the lady from the city said that's not possible), the owner of the landlocked property is usually presumed to have an easement that let's her cross over another property to the street (an easement of necessity, they call it). So even if you do own the driveway, you might end up having to share it.

eeka said...

Hi Josh. Yep, I knew that, but my driveway isn't wide enough for a car to pass mine if mine is parked there. Therefore, if there's an easement through there, I don't have anywhere to park on the property, despite the deed saying I have "deeded off-street parking to the right of the house."

There is also a vacant lot owned by the city a few parcels over that could be used as access to these landlocked parcels, but the BRA was like "we're not going to knock trees down when there's already a means of access to the parcels."

Margaret said...

Hi there,

Sounds like quite a connundrum. I think there's laws in MA about abandoned property. If you maintain something for over 20 years, legally it's yours. Hopefully a lawyer provided by the title insurance company will help you get this figured out.