Originally I thought the land was a bit further away than I liked. It’s about 20 minutes south of where we currently live in central MA. The seller had posted two adjacent lots: 15 acres and 16 acres. They’re Retreat Lots which means that they don’t have the normal required road frontage. Some towns allow for retreat lots with less road frontage in exchange for a larger lot requirement. This town requires 250 feet of road frontage with 80,000 minimum square footage (a little under 2 acres). But a retreat lot needs only 50 feet of road frontage in exchange for having an increased minimum of 240,000 square footage. This means these two parcels had small house lots in front of them. Not ideal but it’s a common way to find large lots.
So we chose to take a look at these paired parcels. At the time I was looking for at least three contiguous lots so I wasn’t sure we’d be interested. But coincidentally the owner had another 7.5 acre lot adjacent that he was considering selling as well. His family had owned a huge original area (probably 70 acres all-told) that had been divided up over the years. Several small adjacent parcels had gone to family members, another parcel across the street belonged to the sister co-owner, another parcel had sold decades ago, and we had just missed out on a 2 acre parcel in front of the 15 acre lot. I hinted to the owner that I was interested in the 7.5 acre parcel as well. Fortunately he was interested in selling.
Around this time I got very familiar with the town’s zoning bylaws. Each town has a set of bylaws that describe the allowed usage of land, road frontage requirements, permitting, signage, in-law use, etc. This is where questions like “Can I have chickens in my backyard?” get answered. Because I had read the bylaws carefully I knew that the 7.5 acre lot was going to cause us some difficulties. You see, retreat lots can’t exist too close to another retreat lot. The 7.5 acre was too close to the 16 acre neighbor to qualify. The answer to this problem was surprising. We had to divide it into two lots in order to build on it!
This required engineers to draw up the plans for a Subdivision. They had to survey the property where we were splitting it up, draft a private road, and submit it to the planning board. This added $13,000 to the cost of the property but it was a necessary evil. We didn’t know exactly how much it would cost to get the subdivision approved but had agreed with the sellers that we’d cover it. I’ll write a separate blog post about the planning board meetings. But ultimately it was approved and we purchased all three parcels: the 15 acre, the 16 acre, and the soon-to-be-split 7.5 acre. The 7.5 acre property became a private road, a 2 acre property, and a 4.5 acre property. So we became in possession of four build-able lots, three of which will be serviced by the private road.
Part of this process required naming the road. Some of the fun puns were vetoed (Food Court, Warp Drive, Wit’s End) and we agreed for something more subtle.
It all seemed to work out in the end. I think we would have made a few different decisions were we aware of all the logistics from the beginning. The 16 acre lot could have become part of the subdivision instead of a retreat lot which would have afforded us some future flexibility. The 15 acre lot could have been split into a 6 acre and a 9 acre back-lot in case we ever wanted to sell the 6 acre beyond our friend-group. But ultimately it will still be awesome.
Here is an overview of the property. Starting from the bottom, #44 is the 15 acre, #91 is the 16 acre, #90 is the 4.5 acre, #89 is the 2 acre, and #88 is our future subdivision road.