There is a 50 acre heavily wooded area next to my subdivision. The property has been subdivided into home sites for decades, but no homes have ever been built. There are overgrown caliche and dirt roads through the property, with fire hydrants and underground electric boxes along the roads. If you look at Google Maps and the County Tax records, you see that the streets have names. You also see the individual property boundaries and the taxes paid on them. Of course, there is no taxes on the roads.
Recently, the owners of the property put a locked gate at the main road entrance. They put up wire fencing and no trespassing signs where anyone might walk in. I spoke to one of the owners and they said that they put up the gate and fencing on advice of their lawyers. They said that the neighbors will no longer be able to enter.
I understand 100% why the property owners do not want people going onto their property. However, I was wondering if it was trespassing if people stayed on the roughed in planned roads. I live in Texas USA, your mileage may vary, not legal advice etc.
Even if the roads have been “roughed in,” if the entire development – including the land that those dirt roads are on – is still the (private) property of the development company, I have a hard time seeing how driving on them would not be trespassing, especially now that fences have been put up and signs posted.
If the local jurisdiction (town, township, county, whatever) considers those “planned roads” to now be actual public thoroughfares, then I imagine it would be a different situation. If that were the case, then I would also imagine that the local jurisdiction would consider those fences across the roads to be blocking access to public roadways.
Don’t know the details of Tx law but, in general, a proposal or plan to create a public right of way over land is not the same as, and does not operate as, an actual grant of a public right of way over land. There’ll likely be some formal step that the local government has to take to turn proposed public roadways into actual public roadways, and in general this happens fairly late in the process - after the conduits and services have been installed, the sidewalks and hardtop laid down, etc, etc. In fact, in general it doesn’t happen until the road is actually required to provide public access to properties which have actually been developed.
So the likelihood is that the landowners are in the right - this is still private land over which there is no public right of way.
Agree with the others, if it’s private property you can’t go on it without permission, even if it looks like pubic property.
If your concern is the roads and you don’t think the roads are private, go to city hall and ask them. If they are, in fact, public the next step would be to talk to the police department or (again) city hall and see if someone has a permit to have the road closed.
If it’s public and if no one can legally have it closed, you can probably report them and get it opened. I’m willing to bet, however, that it’s either not a public road or that it is but the development company that owns the surrounding area has the okay from the city to have it blocked off since there’s no reason for anyone to be in the area and this makes it easier for the police to do their job.
I’d be surprised if the developers would be doing this if they weren’t supposed to be doing it. They’re not going to want to end up with a bunch of fines or bad blood with the city.
Oh, there can be questions, as blocking public access to public land via unlawful gates and fences is a time-honored sport in some parts of the country (ranging from California beaches to the Montana high country). It is somewhat unlikely that the public ever had access to the streets in an unbuilt development, but it’s not impossible.
Both those cases are about the people closing off access to a public area by no longer allowing people to cut across their private property to get there. The issue being that cutting across their property is the only way to get there.
In this thread, the either the roads are public or private. If they’re public, then the question is weather or not they’ve legally closed off a public roadway to restrict access to their private property.
If they’re private, then what they’re doing isn’t much different than putting a gate at the end of your driveway so people don’t hang out in your backyard.
Neither situation is quite the same as the cases you linked to.
Most cities (and developers) have a healthy urge to limit their liability. There would need to be a reason to have people using those roads that the city thought outweighed the liability of having people using them. So, if the city owned them and opening them would serve a purpose, they’d probably be open. As you described them, though, the roads are incomplete and letting people use them would disturb any compaction and grading that has already been done. Paying to regrade and recompact them would not be cheap.
The Montana article discussed a number of different cases in different parts of the state. Did you see, for example, the one about the road built and paid for by the county government in 1910 that a private landowner later attempted to close?
Moreover, note that in many parts of the country, the default position is that the landowner holds title to the centerline of the road; the county or city or township never has more than an easement. The question then is who has an easement. Putting a gate on your driveway after you’ve granted the people up the hill an easement is not that different than closing off a road across your land to which a general public easement exists.
We needn’t look that far. I live on a California mountain dirt track with property lines extending to the middle of the road. It’s thus a multi-owner private road, but used as public access for many years. One [del]shithead[/del] neighbor tried to block access at his lot, with spikes and such to rip-up tires. The county fire department put him to rights. Maybe he’ll move away if he can sell out - after ridding the property of tacky displays.
If the county property maps show those roads as separate from the adjacent houselots, that strongly suggests to me that they are now dedicated as public roads.
Now it’s possible that since the various houselots never sold, the owner of those has asked the county to vacate those roads, and that may have been granted. Or they may have never been improved (curbs, gutters, paving) to the standards the county requires, constructively vacating them back to the original subdivider. If either of those is the case, presumably updates to the county tax maps are imminent.
I’d be interested in seeing what I can determine from the county website, if you’ll give the actual location.
The lots are not owned by a developer, but by two local business people, one of whom
lives in the neighborhood. Business person #1 has his name on some lots, while the
other business person has his name on others. They don’t own any together.
According to county tax records,The lots are about .20 acres each, are are distinct
from the rocky dirt road “streets.” The lots have street addresses (123 Honeysuckle
Lane or whatever).
The property is about a mile away from the city limits.
During one of his explanations to our neighbors, one of the owners said that the “Fire
Marshal” asked him to block access to the property. A few years back our HOA did
warn not to let our kids or others start campfires in the woods.
Since I was nice to him and did not complain, the owner said that my kids and I
could have access to the woods one time a month! I never took him up on the
offer, didn’t feel right since none of my neighbors could access the woods.
I guess that it is true that there can be “public” roads, that are not open to the
public just yet. The roads don’t belong to the property owner, but they don’t
belong to us neither and the county will decide when we can have access.
In the OP you mentioned the lawyer for the owner of the property asked him to put up the sign and block the road. In this most recent post you mention that the fire marshal asked him to block off the roads.
I’m not sure if you got new information since you started the thread or if there’s some other reason for the discrepancy, however…
If the fire marshal asked the them to block access to the road, then you’re probably not going to legally get access to it. The only way I could see getting it reopened would talking to the Chief of Police or the Mayor and in both cases, unless there’s some infighting between one of them and the FD or this is creating some kind of civil rights issue, you’re likely to find that the road will remain blocked.
Also, even if it should not be blocked and the trespassing signs were put up illegally and wouldn’t hold up in court, if the police see you back there you’ll still get asked to leave and could end up with tickets/fines/arrest unless they can verify you’re okay to be back there. That could be difficult outside of business hours.
And, it does make sense, if they have the roads closed off the police don’t have to patrol it, the fire department does have to worry about people playing back there and getting hurt in the construction, lost in the woods, starting fires once the houses start going up etc.
If access to that road is an important matter to you, by all means, you should find out if the road can be legally closed and if not, fight to get it reopened.
I sense some misunderstanding of the subdivision process in this thread.
When the time is right to subdivide former farm- or ranchland into smaller pieces of the type found in cities and suburbs, the subdivider (typically a “developer”) files a plat with the county. This has great utility, because now the individual parcels can be described (and sold) as “Lot 6 of Block 12 of Mesquite Estates Unit 2, in Hamilton County, Texas”—instead of having to give a cumbersome metes and bounds (or aliquot subdivision) description of the parcel being conveyed.
Because every individual parcel of land should (generally) have access from a public road, the subdivider will set aside strips of land as roads, which are dedicated to the public. Typically that’s the county (or city, if within one). In modern times, cities and suburban counties typically impose requirements on such dedications: street width, distance between intersections, easements for utilities, pavement standards, etc. However, Texas counties, lacking home rule powers, may not have the power to set such acceptance requirements.
My point is that it’s not important that the various parcels are still owned by the subdivider. The very filing of the plat is what ordinarily makes those public roads. Now, once accepted, the public authorities may well restrict access to those roads for health/safety/welfare reasons—after all, those restrictions aren’t (yet) keeping people from getting to their homes or businesses.
And regarding the developer being the one to block access, since they likely want to stay on the good city of the city, they’ll kiss the city’s ass. Here, we see (taken at face value), the city wanted access blocked. Sure, the city may own it and it may be their responsibility to close the road, the developer took care of it. And it doesn’t hurt that they have the ability, materials and time to take care of it.
FWIW, I speak from experience when it comes to kissing the city’s ass. In my case, those little things that you do, but don’t (by law) have to, at their request, go a long long way in them helping you out as well.
Maybe they took care of putting up the fence and signs, and maybe the city looks the other way when they forgot to get a permit for something or they’re a few days behind on taking care of some code work.
In my case, I go out of my way to do little things for the city and in return (at least I think it’s in return), the mayor shops at my store, the various inspectors cut us some slack, the cops patrol our lot more often and actually check to make sure our doors are locked at night etc.
This is something I spend a lot of time on, especially as I live in the public land state and enjoy its access constantly. Public land is what makes America great (and a few other countries like Canada).
It varies by state, but locked and/or posted land is not available to you legally. In other cases you can access private land via waterways on boat or foot up to the high water line. States like Alaska and Montana have very liberal laws in this respect. Eastern states and Texas are more closed. Some like Wyoming and Colorado have some particular “gotcha” exceptions.
In the OP’s situation it doesn’t matter what the landowner is doing with the land or whether it’s being put to “good” use. It is their property and you cannot access it.