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Designation of land as “park” or “plaza” in recorded plat creates appurtenant easement in neighbors

September 26th, 2009 by Joseph William Singer

A developer sold properties in a subdivision on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, after recording a map of the area showing the lots and the streets. Three irregularly-shaped areas that wereabout five times the size of the lots on the map were labeled as”parks” and one was called a “plaza.” Those properties were never developed and remained wooded over the years. The lots were all sold but not in the manner envisioned on the map; many lots were grouped together so that the average parcel is now about the size of the parklots. Fifty years later, an owner of the “plaza” lot sought to sell it to an buyer who wanted to build a single-family home on it. The neighbors sued, arguing that the designation of the property as a plaza meant that they owned an negative easement prohibiting development of the lot for residential purposes and an affirmative easement to use the lot for park purposes. The plaza owner argued that the writing of the word “plaza” on the map was not sufficient to constitute an express oran implied easement limiting the uses to which the property could be put. In addition, the subdivision was created before it was common to create homeowner’s associations, so if the park lots are privately owned but subject to an appurtenant easement in all the neighbors, itis not clear how the parks will be maintained, who would pay for  that maintenance, or how disputes about their use would be resolved. The Appeals Court held that the writing on the map was insufficient to impose an easement on the property but the Supreme Judicial Court reversed.

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