(topo-, “place, and graphia, “writing”)
A topographic survey is study of the earth’s surface features. It includes detail on the shape of the land by delineating lines of a constant elevation, and also on planimetric features, which may include the footprint of existing structures with finish floor elevation, surface evidence of utilities, tree trunks and canopies, fencing, walls, curbs or edge of pavement and other items which are visible and present at the time of the survey.
Today, the terrain can be measured using many different techniques – ground survey, photogrammetry, 3d scanning and Lidar.
Generally, we determine topography using a ground survey crew or aerial photogrammetry. A ground survey is usually more appropriate for small sites (less than 10 acres). Aerial photgrammetry requires a special flight by a plane with a special camera (that compensates for speed of the plane at the time of exposure). The extra cost required for the flight usually makes this type of survey only practical for large sites (10 acres to thousands of acres).
To create a map using a ground crew, the field crew takes measurements in the field at specific points, including changes in grade and tops and bottom of slopes. We would also measure planimetric features, including trees, pavement, concrete corners, and corners of structures. This data point information is then “downloaded” into an office computer. Then in AutoCAD, the data points are brought into the drawing and the draftsman simply connects the dots to create the drawing. The terrain model is created by the software and must include “break lines” for all significant changes in elevation. The final product can be delivered in hardcopy, PDF and DWG format for other consultants.
Aerial photogrammetry utilizes aerial photographs taken in adjacent pairs to generate stereo images. When these stereo images are indexed to ground control points (big X’s painted on the ground) and coordinates assigned, then accurate elevations can be determined from the stereo images on a machine called a stereoplotter. The map compiler can actually visualize and follow a contour elevation by keeping a dot in focus on the viewer. Once all of the line work is completed, the map is edited and delivered.
The purpose of a boundary survey is to establish the boundaries of a parcel on the ground using its legal description which typically involves the setting or restoration of property corners (i.e. monuments). In our local area, monuments typically consist of 5/8” rebar or a 1” galvanized pipe driven into the ground. Regardless of what is set in the ground, the monument will have a cap or tag indicating the surveyor’s license number as required by state law.
Boundary Surveys generally fall into two categories:
Important note regarding boundary surveys in California:
Parcels created by simultaneous conveyances: In general, these are lots within a subdivision. The procedure for this type of survey is to find evidence of original monuments (i.e. pipes, rebar or wooden stakes) of the subdivision and “pro-rate” any excess or deficiency among the lots equally. If the lots were created within the last 50 years or so, there is usually adequate control from street well monuments, or other lots within the subdivision to resolve the boundaries. However, these types of surveys are generally less expensive to perform than surveys for a lot created by a sequential conveyance (i.e., deed).
If the lot was created on a pre-1900 map, it is very likely there is little or no evidence of the original subdivision, and then a retracement will have to be based on other more recent retracement surveys of record.
Parcels created by sequential conveyances: These types of parcels were created by a deed conveyance and can be within older subdivisions, ranchos or sectionalized land. They usually contain a metes and bounds (bearings and distances) type of description.
They might read as follows:
That portion of Lot 1 of Block of the Smith’s Tract described as follows:
Beginning at the southwest corner of Lot 1, thence North 35 30’ East 150 feet to the southwest corner of property conveyed to John Jones in deed recorded July 7, 1942; thence…
This type of property is more challenging to survey because the parcels were conveyed sequentially. This requires an in-depth title investigation into all of the surrounding properties to determine which parcel has “senior” rights. Generally, those properties conveyed first will receive their fully described parcel and those properties that call for an adjoiner, or another senior deed, may receive less than the boundary described in the deed. [Insert tiff or PDF example]
California State Law requires Land Surveyors to file a map with the County upon completion of the survey. This document may be a Corner Record map or a Record of Survey map depending on the circumstances.
It is extremely important that you receive a copy of the map to be recorded from your surveyor. If your surveyor sets monuments on your property without filing a map, he/or she is breaking the law. Although you may get your property corners set at a reduced price, that survey may not be recognized in the future by other surveyors since the survey was not properly recorded. Having the surveyor record a map is your guarantee that he/she is standing behind their work. A boundary survey that is not properly documented in accordance with state law is really not worth any fee!
In California, there are two general types of subdivisions – Parcel Maps and Tract Maps.
Parcel Map can create 4 parcels or fewer and Tract Maps create 5 parcels or more. Tract Maps can also be used to create a single common area lot for a condominium plan.
Generally the first step to subdividing your property is to meet with the local agency and determine if the subdivision is feasible. This can include many factors and I would advise people to hire an independent planning consultant to fully investigate all of the necessary requirements. For example, you may be able to subdivide your property under the current zoning; however, the agency has the right to require the developer to provide public improvements (i.e. streets and utilities). The construction of these improvements can, in some cases, add hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project.
Once you know that the parcel can be subdivided, the next step is to hire a surveyor to prepare the Tentative Map. This map will include topography, existing and proposed easements, proposed parcel lines, building envelopes, proposed streets and utilities. This map, when completed, can be submitted to the agency along with the application forms and fees. Depending on the agency, processing the map can take anywhere from a few months to a few years. Once the Tentative Map is approved by the agency, the final map and improvement plans can be then be prepared. Here again, the processing time depends on the complexity of the project. Once the final map and improvement plans have been approved, then remaining fees, tax bond, and public improvement bonds will need to the paid and then the map can be scheduled for final approval.
Condominium plans are defined in Section 1351 of the California Civil Code. A condominium consists of an undivided interest in the common area of real property coupled with a separate interest in airspace called a “unit”, the boundaries of which are described on a condominium plan in sufficient detail to locate the three dimensional boundaries thereof. Condominium plans in this area are prepared in 8.5x11 recordable format to show the boundaries of an airspace subdivision. For example, if you own a unit in a 10 unit condominium subdivision, you own 100% interest in the airspace within the unit and 10% interest in Lot 1 of the common area. We can prepare the one lot subdivision map as well as the diagrammatic floor plans for each of the airspace units.
Lot Line Adjustments:
Lot line adjustments are allowed under Section 66412(d) of the Subdivision Map Act. This section is applicable to an adjustment of the property lines between four or fewer existing adjoining parcels. A local agency must limit its review and approval to a determination of whether or not the parcels resulting from the adjustment will conform to the local general plan, any applicable coastal plan, and zoning and building ordinances. Lot line adjustments must go through an approval process similar to a Parcel Map; however the planning document is called a “Preliminary Lot Line Adjustment Map” as opposed to a “Tentative Map”. Once the preliminary map is approved the final lot line adjustment can be finalized with certificates of compliance or a Parcel Map.
ALTA/ ASCM Land Title Surveys:
The ALTA “American Land Title Association”, ACSM “American Congress and Surveying and Mapping” jointly set forth the standards and criteria for ALTA Land Title Surveys. These surveys are typically required by the lender for large commercial transactions. The purpose of the ALTA survey is to allow the title company to issue an ALTA policy of title insurance.
The ALTA survey is a complete investigation into the title of the property. This includes plotting of all easements and exceptions listed in the title report (documents of record) and also includes an investigation of other rights which are not of record. For example, the property may have roads which access other properties with no recorded easement, or there may be underground pipelines or overhead power lines with no recorded easement. The ALTA map will also show encroachments of buildings, fences or walls over the property lines. The ALTA survey will also disclose items listed in the title report which actually don’t affect the property and can be removed from the title report.
The ALTA standards also include an optional “Table A” which allows the client or lender to select additional items to the ALTA map (i.e. topography, flood zone info, zoning, setbacks etc.).
Certificates of Compliance:
A Certificate of Compliance is the agencies’ certification that a parcel was created in conformance with state and local ordinances. Fees for Certificates of Compliance can range greatly dependent on the number of deeds involved and the depth of research required.
Key Notes for Certificates of Compliance:
- If the parcel was created by a lot/block type of description, then it is generally less effort to perform the research.
If the parcel was created by sequential conveyances, then the time required to validate the parcel can be very extensive since it is often necessary to research the chain of title back to the original government patent (typically in the mid-1800’s).
Once the plans for a project have been approved, they typically then go out to bid for construction. We can work with the owner or contractor to provide staking in the field to aid the contractor in constructing the project according to the plans. This may include rough grade staking, building stakes, curb stakes, or utility staking. When the staking is complete, we will provide a staking plan and “cut sheet” showing the cuts and fills from the stakes to the proposed improvements.
This may include certifying concrete forms, setbacks, height of roof or any other certification the agency may require during construction.
Flood Elevation Certificate
A Flood Elevation Certificate is a form provided by FEMA to certify the finish floor elevation of a residence (along with other information) which is shown to be within a flood plane on a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM). The elevation is of the lowest floor and adjacent ground elevations in the local flood plain datum as required by FEMA.
Flood Elevation Certificates must be prepared and certified by a land surveyor, engineer, or architect who is authorized by state law to certify elevation information. Community officials who are authorized by local law or ordinance to provide floodplain management information may also sign the certificate. The certificate does not necessarily mean that you will not have to obtain flood insurance. Only if you house is entirely above the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) or 100 year flood line can you expect have your flood insurance reduced.