A recent Court of Appeal decision, Save Mt. Diablo v. Contra Costa County, No. A142357 (First Dist., October 7, 2015), provides guidance concerning the concept of a “division” of land under Subdivision Map Act, clarifying that condemnation of portions of a parcel do not result in subdivision of the remaining private areas.
The Map Act requires a property owner to obtain approval of either a parcel map or a final map in order for property to be sold, leased, or used as collateral for financing. The principal purposes of the Map Act are to ensure the orderly development of land, control the design of improvements, guarantee the completion of public facilities, and protect the public from fraud.
In Save Mount Diablo, the Nunns purchased a tract of agricultural property recorded as a single parcel. The Contra Costa Water District (“CCWD”) had previously condemned two intersecting strips of land across the tract, one for a roadway and the other for a pipeline. The two strips effectively divided the Nunn’s property into four separate parcels.
The Nunns initially pursued approval of a parcel map to legally convert the property into four parcels with one remainder parcel. Save Mount Diablo objected to the application, citing potential environmental impacts from resulting development. The Nunns then abandoned the application, instead requesting certificates of compliance for each of the four parcels separated by the CCWD strips. Under section 66499.35 of the Map Act, a certificate of compliance may be issued upon a determination that property was previously divided consistent with the Map Act and local law. These certificates, if issued, would have allowed the Nunns to sell, lease, or finance the four parcels without obtaining approval of a parcel map.
The Nunns argued that the CCWD condemnation of the strips created a lawful “division” of the property into four discrete parcels and that the Nunns were entitled to certificates of compliance to recognize the prior division. The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors ultimately agreed and ordered the issuance of the certificates. Save Mount Diablo sued to set aside this decision.
Court of Appeal Analysis
The appellate court first considered whether the Nunns were entitled to certificates of compliance based on a prior “de facto” legal division. While acknowledging that the condemnation created separate fee estates in the various portions of the property, the court determined that condemnation did not divide the property for purposes of the Map Act. It stated that “regardless of whether a piece of property can be characterized as a parcel, it is entitled to a certificate of compliance only if it was the result of a prior division recognized by the Act.” The court reasoned that the mere fact that parts of a property do not touch does not mean that a division has been achieved, and noted that, under the Map Act’s definition of “subdivision,” property may be considered a contiguous unit even if it is separated by roads, streets, utility easements, or railroad rights-of-way. Continue Reading