Creating access for landlocked property is critical to improving raw land and maximizing its potential.
While I’ve assisted clients in the sale, acquisition, leasing of commercial buildings, farms, developed lots, and residential properties, the one sector I find to be the most challenging and interesting is raw land – property without development approvals (“entitlements”) and having few if any improvements.
Raw land is a blank slate – typically its current use is agricultural or recreational; the mystery is what can the property be used for in the future?
A host of factors affect the potential for raw land: current zoning, the planned future land use as determined by the local government’s master plan; whether the property will eventually be served by public water and/or sewer service or will it have to rely on private well and septic; the availability of other utilities (electric, natural gas, telephone and internet); how the property is accessed from public roads and what level of service is provided by the existing and planned road network.
While all the factors mentioned are important, the ability to access the property from a public road is critical.
Most properties abut a public road and direct access exists; however, access may still be limited. For example, if a property only ‘fronts’ the public road for a short distance then use of the property may be constrained because there isn’t enough width to construct an adequate entrance. Or, if a property has sufficient road frontage but the road’s vertical grades and/or horizontal curves cause poor ‘site distance’ along the road then use of the property can be impaired.
Some properties don’t have any road frontage – can these properties be used for anything?
Usually, these properties will have a right-of-way, or easement, which provides access to the property by crossing another property. How the right-of way is worded is critical:
- Is the specific path described?
- Is it for vehicular or pedestrian use?
- Can utilities be installed? Can the surface be improved?
- Is it for the exclusive use of a certain person or is it general in nature?
Obviously the answers to these questions will determine how the property benefiting from right-of-way may be used.
And what if a property has no road frontage and no right-of way? This is the epitome of a “landlocked” property. In this situation access to the property can only be achieved by crossing other properties without permission – a tenuous situation at best.
The owner of a land locked property does have a few options available to improve access.
Perhaps an adjoining property owner can be convinced to grant a right-of-way. Some property owners will do this out of kindness, others may be willing if they are sufficiently compensated, yet others will not be willing under any circumstances.
Another option is to seek a directive from a court of law. If a large tract of land with road frontage was divided into smaller tracts the court may decide that an “implied easement” to the land locked parcel(s) exist.
Or, the court may also be convinced that a “prescriptive easement” exists if the owner of the landlocked property has been accessing the property by crossing another property without permission for an extended period of time.
Obtaining a court order isn’t certain. It can be expensive and time consuming and is normally an action of last resort.
Access is valuable, so obtaining or improving access is often a worthwhile pursuit.
Having an experienced team of professional on your side including a real estate professional, a land use attorney and a surveyor is essential.
Please feel free to contact me if you have a property that can benefit from obtaining better access. I’m here to help.
Dave Wilkinson, Vice President, joined MacRo as Director of Marketing in 1992, and has served as Vice President since 1997. Dave holds a B.S. and M.A. in Economics from the University of Delaware. Dave is a licensed Realtor and brokers most of MacRo’s land and farm deals.