PITA NewsLetter

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The usual suspects...

Surveying on Plum Island from a Land Surveyor’s Perspective By Edward Dixon, P.L.S  Hancock Associates


As many homeowners and developers have discovered, developing or improving a lot on Plum Island can be a time consuming and expensive endeavor.  As the demand for new development and existing residence improvements has increased and the property values have risen, the environmental, zoning and building regulations have kept pace with continually evolving requirements for new construction approvals.  

A typical lot improvement project on Plum Island is subject to the limits of the zoning ordinances as modified by the overlay district requirements, Conservation Commission approvals with D.E.P. oversight and Building Inspector approvals following the codes as set forth by the Commonwealth and local communities.

When surveying a lot on Plum Island, as an initial step in any improvement process, we are often confronted with questions such as: “How come my front property corner lies in the pavement of the street?  Or, “My lot is only 100’ by 70’. How difficult can it be to just set my corners?” 

Answers to these questions can often be traced to the interesting history of development on the island.  The Plum Island Development, as we know today, originated as a 1920 development plan commissioned by the Plum Island Beach Company.  The subdivision plan for the Northerly Section (North of Island Road) issued in 1920 divided the island into a grid of 260 ¼± acre lots subtended by two 40’ wide Roads (Northern Boulevard and Old Point Road) with many intersecting 10’ wide side streets.  A subsequent plan issued in 1923 divided the Southern portion of land purchased by the Development Company into 302 ¼± acre lots with three main roads (Southern Boulevard, Sunset Drive and Temple Boulevard) and several intersecting 20’ wide streets.  At the outset for the Northern section, the Development Company constructed the main roads with only 12’ of pavement and the 10’ wide streets were gravel ways that nominally followed the subdivision geometry.  The cottage lots were largely staked out in crude fashion using the alignments of the paved boulevards and gravel roads as the controlling factor, which was sufficient for the property values at that period in time. Inevitably, as the development and population increased, the conditions of the roads became an issue. The Town of Newbury and the City of Newburyport petitioned the County and the State for funds to make the necessary improvements. 

In 1930 Essex County re-surveyed Northern Boulevard, Plum Island Boulevard and Island Road creating newly monumented layouts that were overlaid onto the original subdivision plan.  As a result, many of the original lots that were deeded by lot number references to the original subdivision plan, now did not agree with the new layout geometry often leaving a strip easement at the layout line.  In 1973 this procedure was repeated for Old Point Road, Sunset Drive and Southern Boulevard.  The resultant is that the layout right of way monuments and the positioning of the 10’ wide paved streets in many cases do not always coincide with the original deeded subdivision geometry.   

To do a property survey correctly, a Land Surveyor has to correlate the Essex County layout bounds with the 1920s subdivision plan geometry.  Over the years, several reputable surveyors set many of the subdivision lot corners and left reference marks for others to follow.  Unfortunately though, as a result of the sewer and water project construction, a great many of those corners and reference marks are now gone.  So how come it took so long to stake my lot…