When we purchased our property it was a completely wooded tract, mostly covered in 30+ year old planted loblolly pines. Out of the 19.208 acres, approximately 11 acres was in pine plantation. The remainder of the property included a beautiful live oak hammock, a small pond, a creek with natural hardwoods on the eastern boundary, and a former orchard on the western side that had long since been overgrown by volunteer pines and hardwoods. All of this provided the property with a great amount of privacy which was one of the main things we were looking for. We wanted to make sure that we had a plan in place to keep the property as private as possible as we developed it.
Walking the Property
As we began the process of creating our development plan, it was important for us to visit the property multiple times and walk as much of it as possible each time. This gave us a great sense of the natural layout of the property. We could tell by walking the tract where some things were naturally going to be placed such as driveway entrances and where the building sites should be located. We were able to get a sense for how big we wanted our clearings to be for the yards and the garden. We located portions of the property that were vital to keep as completely wooded areas so that our privacy buffer could be maintained.
It’s essential to locate all of the important items on your property. This would include items such as property corners, all of the property lines, power and water sources, existing structures, fences, roads, trails, and especially areas of natural beauty. It is also important to note any items that need addressing at this stage such as washouts or breaks in the fencing. You may also find things on your property that you didn’t know were there such as old trash piles, discarded tires or old farming implements. All of these things add to your knowledge and understanding of your property and will help in the next step.
This part of the process is also important because it helps give you a vision for the future of your property. As you walk the tract, you will be surprised how many new ideas you get about future projects or different ways to orient the things you already have planned. This will give you a sense of excitement for your property and motivate you through some of the planning and permitting that has to take place during the next couple of steps.
Creating a Layout
After walking the property several times and getting a really good feel for it, it’s time to sit down and create a layout or a map of the property. This can be as simple as sketching it out on a piece of paper or onto a copy of the survey. It can also be done digitally in a program such as Google Earth. I like to use Google Earth to create my layouts because it lets me make changes easily and repeatedly until I get it just right. I can then take the measuring tools and measure the different items that I have created on the map. This really comes in handy when it comes time to mark the lines on the actual property in real life, but we’ll talk about this in a later step.
The important thing to remember during this step is what you learned during your walks on the property. Add all of the items that you located during your walks onto your layout. Starting with the property lines and corners, work your way in and add all of the other pieces of information or points of interest. It was important for me to locate the live oak hammock on my layout as this was an area of natural beauty that I wanted to highlight. I wanted my house to eventually sit next to these beautiful trees, so I worked everything else from this point. Luckily, the existing water well on the property was also in this area, so that helped.
Keep in mind that this exercise is mainly for your own information and planning purposes. It doesn’t have to be beautiful or even be extremely accurate. The goal is to put the information for the items that you have located on the property and all of your ideas together in one place. Don’t strive for perfection, but shoot for completeness. This document will be important for you as you move forward during your planning and development processes.
Depending on your property and the complexity of your layout this process can range from extremely simple to very complex. Some properties are completely cleared of timber and already have the property lines marked by the surveyor prior to closing. Our property, however, was totally wooded and we only had the corners marked by our surveyor. The property lines themselves were very easy to follow as they are bordered by a road, a driveway, an open field, and a creek. Because of this, I didn’t even worry about marking the actual property lines themselves. I instead focused my attention to marking the internal lines that were important for clearing portions of the property.
I wanted the trees completely cleared from the yards, driveways and garden spot. So with this in mind, I located the focal point of my property, the live oaks, and worked from there. Using the layout that I had created in Google Earth, I was able to measure the distances for each of the lines for the yards. I then walked them off and taped the lines and corners with flagging tape. I marked trees down the lines with a single row of tape and marked corner trees with a double row. It can really be helpful to use a measuring wheel or large tape measure if your property is clear enough. Because my property was very thickly overgrown, I found it easier to load the Google Earth files onto my cellphone and use the gps to roughly locate the corners.
Keep in mind while marking your lines that it is much more important to follow features of the land itself than it is to follow the layout you created. Remember as you are going through this process to take your time, be patient and be open to making changes as you go. Your layout can be edited at any time if something on the property makes you have to relocate it. For example, I ended up having to move where I had my driveway planned because I found several trees on the property that were perfect to frame each side of it. I also completely reshaped the driveway itself as I went in order to keep certain trees along the route.
Getting an Address
Most rural properties will not have an official address when you purchase them. They will be sold with a general address such as a street or highway name, and they will reference the deed and plat for your legal description. Now that we had our property all marked out, it was time to go through the official process of getting an address. You will have to do this before you can get started on any official permitting or construction.
We contacted our local building department and were given the details of how to accomplish this. We had to download the Information for New Address form from their website, fill it out, and return it to their office. As a part of that form we had to describe the location of the property, the nearest neighbor, the map and parcel number for the property, and several other pieces of information. All of this information can be found on the county Tax Assessor’s website. Another portion of the form was to describe exactly where the physical location for the dwelling would be. We had already gone through the process of marking each lot and driveway out, so it was as simple as describing the location and flag color for each of the driveways.
The county Building Inspector then goes out to the property and using the information provided on the form and the flagging on the property they will create a physical address and save it in their system. We were contacted the following day and told what our addresses would be.
Having Culverts Installed
The main hurdle that we had to overcome in the beginning was the fact that there was no real access to our property from the road. There was an existing road on the property, but there was no way across the ditch on the county road. It could only be accessed from the neighbor’s driveway. Luckily we knew the neighbor very well and they didn’t mind us driving across their driveway. Now that we had an official address we could fix this problem.
We went to the County Commission office and applied to have the county install concrete culverts for us. We filled out the form that included our new address and contact information. We had to decide the length that we wanted the culvert to be (in increments of 8 feet) and we had pay the fee up front. We decided to go with 40 foot long culverts as we knew we would have log trucks going in and out and we would also be pulling campers into the property. In a couple days we got a call from the county Road Department. They met us on site and flagged out the beginning and end of each culvert location. They installed them the next day, and we could finally access our property directly.
This development allowed us to start the process of having the timber cut on our property. I will go into much more detail about this in Part 2 of this series, so stick around.