CHAPTER 8 - LAND DESCRIPTIONS

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1 CHAPTER 8 - LAND DESCRIPTIONS Notes: While the location of land is commonly referred to by street number and city, it is necessary to use the legal description in the preparation of those instruments relating to the title and use of real estate. Numerous methods or types of description have been developed for the purpose of achieving greater accuracy and precision in identifying the land. The more common methods of land description are: (1) The United States Governmental Survey System, often referred to as the "rectangular survey system", (2) metes and bounds, (3) recorded subdivision plat, (4) Colorado Coordinate System. Technically, any description is legal and valid if it unquestionably identifies the property. However, the phrase legal description refers to one of the types of land description explained in this chapter. These types of descriptions are more precise and accurate than informal description such as street addresses. THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENTAL SURVEY SYSTEM Soon after the Revolutionary War ended and new areas were added to the public domain, it became apparent to our government leaders that a plan must be worked out for selling and locating lands in the western territory. Thomas Jefferson authored a plan that was adopted by Congress in modified form on May 20, Under this newly enacted law, the first surveys took place in the State of Ohio. Ohio was the testing ground for the rectangular survey system and some changes were made in the law as a result of experience gained in this original survey plan. The second of such surveys started in Indiana about By this time the system was well established and has since been extended westward to the Pacific Ocean. This system was not used within the area of the original colonies in America, where land maps were irregular and without any orderly plan. The object of the government survey was to create a checkerboard of identical squares covering a given area. The largest squares measure 24 miles on each side and are called "quadrangles". Each quadrangle is further divided into 16 squares called "townships" whose four boundaries each measure six miles and run north-south and east-west. A column of townships is numbered east and west according to its distance from the principal meridian. There are now 36 principal meridians located in different parts of the United States. In most of Colorado, ranges lie west and are numbered from the 6th principal meridian. The 6th principal meridian is located near Lincoln, Nebraska and is 402 miles due east of Colorado Boulevard in Denver. A row of townships running east and west is a "tier" or township and 1

2 is numbered numerically according to its distance from the baseline. In most of Colorado, the main baseline follows a course approximating the 40 degrees line of latitude that is located just north of the city of Brighton in Adams County. (Forty degrees latitude is also the boundary line between Kansas and Nebraska). th Location of the 6 Principal Meridian in Nebraska and Kansas. You will note in the above paragraph that most of Colorado was surveyed using the 6th principal meridian and 40 degrees latitude baseline as the starting point. However, there is a large section of Southwestern Colorado encompassing several counties that was surveyed using the New Mexico principal meridian and the New Mexico baseline as a starting point. Also, in an isolated area some parts of Mesa and Delta Counties in western Colorado use the Ute Meridian (located just east of Grand Junction) as the main north-south survey line with an arbitrary baseline as the starting point. The historic reason for this is that a survey was thought to be needed when the plan was to settle the Ute Indians in and around what was later to become the city of Grand Junction. Because no surveys at that time had been extended west of the Continental Divide, a new baseline needed to be established. This was done without any tie to anything such as an established meridian or a parallel. 2

3 All Principal Meridia and associated Baselines in the Western United States Because of the curvature of the earth, the north-south lines or ranges converge as they extend toward the North Pole. To keep the range lines as nearly six miles apart as possible, and to preserve the square shape of the township, the lines are laid out for approximately 24 miles, and then jog so that they are again six miles apart. The north and west tiers of sections of the township are closing sections. Discrepancies of closure between the interior section line and exterior boundary line surveys are adjusted. These sections usually contain more or less than the 640 acres in a normal section. A township is six miles square or 36 square miles. Townships are numbered north and south from the base line. Each square mile (that is equivalent to 640 acres) is designated as a section. Sections within a township are numbered from the northeast corner, following a back and forth course, until the last section in the southeast corner is reached. For purposes of land description, sections are commonly divided into half-sections containing 320 acres, quarter sections containing 160 acres, etc. Land acreage descriptions are then generally made by referring to a particular quarter of a particular quarter of a particular section located within a particular township or tier either north or south of a particular base line, and either east or west of a particular meridian. A section is the smallest subdivision usually surveyed by government surveyors, and at each section corner there is a marker known as a Survey Monument. 3

4 The above sketch shows the subdivision of two partial quadrangles with the 6 th Principal Meridian acting as the dividing line. A portion of two additional quadrangles is shown below the base line. Below are two illustrations of how Sections would be further divided and described. 4

5 METES AND BOUNDS DESCRIPTIONS When land cannot be described or identified by the governmental survey system, it must be described by metes and bounds. Metes are measures of length and bounds are boundaries. The United States and Canada are the only countries in the world using the governmental survey or rectangular system. In all the rest of the world, tracts of land are surveyed and described by metes and bounds usually by identifying the Point of Beginning and the boundaries in relation to a recognized marker or monument or to natural features such as streams, bridges, piles of stones, trees, etc. Metes and bounds are used in Colorado when it is necessary or desirable to describe a tract with irregular boundaries not conforming to the rectangular system. However, such a survey or description rarely or never relies on natural features for location. As used in Colorado, metes and bounds surveys and descriptions are irregular parts of a section or some subdivision of a section. They always tie to some established corner or line of the governmental survey or to recognized corners or lines of a recorded plat. Metes and bounds should be established by a professional land surveyor. (Surveys do not have official status unless made by a professional surveyor). BEARING SYSTEM Metes and bounds are properly expressed in bearings and distances. Its bearing is the direction of a line, and is stated in terms of the angle it makes with the meridian, or north and south line, through the beginning point of the line. It is described in degrees and fractions of a degree (minutes and seconds) from the cardinal directions of north or south; never from the cardinal directions of east or west. Any cardinal direction of due north, south, east or west is expressed as such. All other measurements are described in degrees from these four cardinal positions (e.g. N E., S W.) In unsurveyed areas the meridian or cardinal direction was established by compass or astronomical observations and calculation. In almost all cases now, bearings are determined from an already established line, such as a section line. It is important when describing land by bearings and distances to state the source of information such as grant, survey, or deed records. 5

6 Illustration of description using the bearing for directions (North 75 East and South 15 West) An example of metes and bounds description using the bearing system follows: A tract of land in the Northwest one-quarter (N/W ¼ NW ¼) of Section 30, Township 1 South, Range 60 West of the 6th P.M., described as follows: Commencing from the Northwest corner of said Section 30; thence South minutes East feet to the Point of Beginning; thence North minutes East feet; thence South feet; thence South minutes West feet; thence North feet to the Point of Beginning, County of Adams, State of Colorado. NW corner Section 30 S E feet Point of Beginning N E feet N N feet S feet S W feet 6

7 AZIMUTH SYSTEM The Azimuth system is basically the same as bearings. It differs from bearings in that it expresses all directions in terms of the angle from one direction only through 360 degrees, instead of being broken into four quadrants. Thus in order to indicate a direction, a surveyor would merely write, for example, 290, moving clockwise using North as the starting point, instead of N 70 W. Surveyors often use it in their work but generally convert it to the usual bearing description. It is seldom used in descriptions. Illustration of the Azimuth system RECORDED SUBDIVISION PLAT A single large tract of land is generally subdivided into smaller parcels called blocks and lots. The subdivision proposes streets, alleys, public utility easements and such other information that the developer and local government desire to include as part of the development plan. A survey is conducted and a map called a subdivision plat is made which, when recorded, creates and identifies smaller parcels of land. After approval by the county and recording of the plat, these parcels can legally be referred to and described only as a certain lot within a certain block of that recorded subdivision map, and not by the former metes and bounds description. The map itself also shows the boundaries and specific measurements of each lot. A developer must obtain approval from the Board of County Commissioners and record the plat in the office of the County Clerk and Recorder before they may convey the individual lots. Failure to follow these procedures prior to the sale of lots carries penalties for each parcel sold. ( C.R.S.) Also, pertaining to a lot that is sold within a subdivision, the boundaries of the block within which the lot is located must be marked before a contract for sale 7

8 is signed, and the lot boundaries must be staked before or within one year of the effective date of the contract. The seller of the subdivided lots (the developer) is responsible for this surveying unless the block is sold as a unit to the builder. In this case the burden is on the subsequent seller, (the builder.) (C.R.S (3)(a) & (5)). The legal description of the shaded site in the figure below would be written as follows: Lot 5, Block 2, Capitol Hill Subdivision, an addition to the City and County of Denver, State of Colorado, according to the recorded plat in the office of the County Clerk and Recorder of said county G R BLOCK ONE L BLOCK TW0 A O 4 9 N G T A 5 8 N S 6 7 T S R T E 11th R Avenue E 1 12 E E T E T BLOCK 11 THREE 2 BLOCK 11 FOUR SURVEYS AND IMPROVEMENT LOCATION CERTIFICATES There are many methods and purposes for describing and identifying property that the real estate licensee will encounter and with which he or she should be familiar. The land survey includes a scale drawing of the boundaries of a parcel of land that is compiled by a series of exact and precise linear and angular measurements taken from a known point of origin developed by mathematical principals of surveying. The purpose of the land survey is to determine, locate and or restore any real property boundaries. The land survey will also indicate any conflicting boundary evidence and any rights-of-way or easements. The improvement survey is comprised of the same precise information as is the land survey mentioned above, and in addition indicates the location of all 8

9 structures and improvements situated on the parcel of land. The improvement survey will also show visible encroachments. It will show any fences, hedges, or walls on or within two feet of both sides of all boundaries. The improvement survey will show the location of all visible above-ground utilities, and all underground utilities for which there is visible surface evidence. The improvement location certificate (ILC) is another method of describing and approximately locating property, that is often required by lenders and insurance companies. It offers certain reasonable assurances regarding potential boundary or encroachment problems that may affect their interest. It also illustrates the location of improvements and conditions of the property. However, it is based on assumptions regarding boundary location and is not a precise survey. The improvement location certificate is typically used in the purchase of single-family residential property located within the established subdivided urban and suburban areas of Colorado. It is a method of depicting property to which many real estate licensees will have the most exposure. What the improvement location certificate is: a. It is a representation of boundaries and improvements based on a surveyor's general knowledge in a given area. b. It is a depiction of the property boundaries showing the size and shape of a parcel that is based on the legal description provided in the warranty deed. c. It is a document that must be signed and sealed by a professional land surveyor who has certain professional responsibilities for its accuracy. d. It is a representation of the location of improvements, encroachments and easements based on their relationship to an estimate of the location of property lines. What the improvement location certificate is not: a. It is not a survey. b. It does not locate exact boundaries. c. It does not establish property corners. d. It is not to be legally relied upon for locations of property lines or future improvements. Sometimes the improvement location certificate will indicate a possible encroachment or other evidence of a boundary dispute. In this case, a true survey (i.e. improvement survey plat or land survey plat) would be required to clarify or resolve any discrepancies. The real estate licensee should not refer to, or represent, that an improvement location certificate is a survey. The licensee should discuss the distinction of each method of describing and locating property with a professional surveyor and the title insurance company. 9

10 The following figure is an example of an Improvement Location Certificate: COLORADO COORDINATE SYSTEM The Colorado Coordinate System became effective July 1, 1967 under Title 38 Article 52 C.R.S. This statute is permissive in nature and is not mandatory. (It is also not in use at this time.) The plane coordinates of a point are the distances of that point from two defined baselines perpendicular to each other (i.e., a north-south axis and an east-west axis) as measured in the plane of baselines. The origin of such coordinate system is a Lambert conformal projection of the Clarke spheroid of 1866 (the earth s sphere) which projects the lines of latitude and longitude onto a plane surface (map) the intersection of such defined lines in each Colorado coordinate zone being the beginning points. 10

11 The plane coordinates of a point of the earth's surface, to be used in expressing the position of location of such point in the appropriate zone of this system, consists of two distances, expressed in feet and decimals of a foot. An east-west direction is known as the "X-coordinate" and a north-south direction is known as a "Y-coordinate". These coordinates depend upon and conform to the coordinates on the "Colorado Coordinate System", of the triangulation and traverse stations of the National Geodetic Survey within the State of Colorado, as those coordinates have been determined by that survey. Colorado has been further divided into a North Zone, Central Zone and South Zone. Generally speaking, counties located in the northern one-third are designated "Colorado Coordinate System, North Zone" those counties in the Central one-third are designated "Colorado Coordinate System, Central Zone," those counties in the South one-third are designated "Colorado Coordinate System, South Zone." When any tract of land to be defined by a single description expands from one zone into another coordinate zone, the positions of all points on its boundaries may be described according to either of the two zones, the zone which is used being specifically named in the description. Whenever the "Colorado Coordinate System" is used to describe a tract of land that in the same document is also described by reference to any subdivision, line or corner of the rectangular survey system, the description by coordinates shall be supplemental to the other. In the event there is a conflict of the two descriptions used, the rectangular survey system shall prevail over the description by coordinates unless such coordinates are upheld by adjudication, at which time the coordinate description will prevail. In reality, the "Colorado Coordinate System" is rarely, if ever, used. The systems of cataloging legal descriptions of property and maintaining them in computer databases is ill-suited for maintaining records according to this system. 11

12 EXAMPLE OF A METES AND BOUNDS DESCRIPTION (USING STATE PLANE COORDINATES AS SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION) Commencing at the corner of Section 20, 21, 28 and 29, T 4 S, R 75 W, 6th P.M. and bearing North 22, 15 minutes West feet to the Point of Beginning which is marked by a 5/8 diameter iron rod set in concrete; thence bearing North minutes West 155 feet to a brass marker set in a granite ledge and stamped 2928, said brass marker having grid coordinates X=1,916,572.14, and = 624, on the Colorado Coordinate System, Central Zone; thence South minutes West feet; thence South minutes East 145 feet; thence North minutes E feet to the Point of Beginning. COLORADO COORDINATE SYSTEM CENTRAL ZONE Brass Marker stamped 2928 X = 1,916, Y = 624, Bearings refer to Coordinate grid Point of Beginning 5/8 dia. iron rod set in concrete N W ft. N S W feet N E feet N W feet Section Corner (5 x 7 x 23 granite stone set 10 in ground) Note: If all monuments, Including section corner were destroyed, Boundaries could be restored very accurately

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