Invisible Lines: How Easements and Setbacks Can Affect Your Development Project

Most people who are developing or building on land understand the actual lines on a survey: the fences, the utilities, boundaries, curbs, etc. However, the lines on plat that you can’t see by looking at the property have just as much impact on your project. These ‘invisible lines’ are made up of the easements and setbacks that the governing municipality has in place that affect where and what can be built on the property.

It’s commonly known that before you start excavation, always call ‘811’ to have the utility company mark where any underground utilities are located. Just as importantly, call a surveyor when you are beginning your land acquisition process to determine where the easements and setbacks are located. Although not always top of mind, surveyors really should be one of the first firms you call to determine how much land there is and if there are any easements, setbacks or restrictions. They are the front-line people who go out and assess those things. As soon as you put a property under contract, call the surveyor! Find out what the land restriction issues could be, where the stumbling blocks might occur, and make sure you’re hiring a surveyor who understands local development codes and subdivision platting.

If you are developing in Houston where is there isn’t formal zoning, there are still certain codes and ordinances that control all the development across the city, as well as the surrounding counties. If you don’t know those, you can get into a lot of trouble. Setback regulations, as outlined in Chapter 42 of the Houston Code of Ordinances, establishes building setbacks along all public streets. As these change over time, this can impact where and what you can build on your property. Our Houston surveyors can make sure you follow all relevant codes and ordinances.

In addition to setbacks, easements determine right-of-way for public access and utilities companies through land, whether it is privately- or publicly-owned. Tearing down a house to build three townhomes? This will often require platting to update the access easements for the driveways. Looking to combine two parcels to build a large building in the center of the land? This too will usually require updating the easements through the property to gain approval for the construction.

It is key to have a surveyor who understands WHAT you are trying to do with the land, and can guide you through not only understanding easements and setbacks, but also HOW to adjust and request changes. Platting experts that are solely devoted to helping our clients get approval and updates to easements and setbacks are a crucial part of the Windrose team. Our Texas professional surveying crew helps clients understand these ‘invisible lines’ and ensure their development projects are completed timely and successfully.