Maine Subdivision Rules - Should You Develop Your land?
In Maine, there is a difference between a division of land and a subdivision of land. In most municipalities dividing your property into two separate lots requires little or no permitting. However, dividing a property into 3 separate lots within a 5-year period does require approval in most cases, and is the definition of “subdivision” in our state.
Increased Property Value
Why would you want to do a subdivision? Most property investors look at the subdivision process as a way to increase the per acre value of their property. At first the thought of a smaller lot being worth more does not make sense, but consider that by reducing the size of the acreage you bring the gross selling price lower and within the purchasing power of more people. More people competing for a property usually translates to more demand and a higher price.
Higher prices may or may not translate into more profits. Before jumping headfirst into a subdivision some research and planning should be undertaken. Market conditions should be the first consideration. Data such as recent comparable lot sales, how many sales have occurred, lot sizes of successful sales, what is the current supply of lots, absorption rates, and financing availability to name a few. Next what will be the costs of surveying, wetland delineation, engineering, road construction, soil testing and other requirements of permitting? After thorough analysis and due diligence a property owner can decide if the risk is worth the reward to subdivide.
Every organized town in Maine may have a slightly different subdivision ordinance. The unorganized territories in Maine have a uniform ordinance with little variation in requirements. Typically, a local planning board will review a proposed subdivision to see if it conforms with the ordinance. The process will consist of several meetings starting with a presentation of a preliminary sketch of the proposal. This is followed up with notifications to the public and nearby property owners of the proposed subdivision and the date of the public meeting to review it.
This next hearing consists of a more formal presentation of a preliminary survey plan of the layout of the proposed lots, roads, easements, slopes, soils etc. Public comment is permitted and heard by the board. After this meeting any changes required by the board need to be addressed and another hearing with a final plan will be scheduled. Assuming no other issues are outstanding, the board will sign the final plan that will be recorded in the county registry of deeds.
There are a number of exceptions to the rule to sell property without the process of subdivision. Gifts to relatives (see definition in statute) may be exempt if the donor has owned the property for at least 5 years and the consideration is less than ½ the current assessed value. Sales to abutting property owners may be exempt from subdivision rules. In unorganized territories, 3 lots can be created in a 5-year period as long as the 3rd lot is retained for forest management purposes. This is often referred to as the ‘2 in 5 Rule.’ There are other exceptions listed in the statute linked above.
This post is intended to encourage a thoughtful process in land investing and should not be viewed as an endorsement to subdivide your property. In many cases I would advise clients not to. The above descriptions are a simplification of the process, not a complete outline of all potential requirements of every planning board. You are well advised to consult with experienced professionals like real estate attorneys, surveyors, soil scientist, and land brokers before undertaking the subdivision process.