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AGO 1986 No. 6 - March 21, 1986
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington


The dividing of a lot in a previously approved subdivision into two halves with the intent that one‑half be sold and attached to an adjoining parcel outside the subdivision does not create a boundary line adjustment.

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                                                                  March 21, 1986 

Honorable David F. Thiele
Island County Prosecuting Attorney
P.O. Box 430
Coupeville, Washington 98239

Cite as:  AGO 1986 No. 6                                                                                                                  

 Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions which we have paraphrased as follows:

             (1) If a lot in a previously approved subdivision is divided in half, with the intent that one‑half be sold and attached to another adjoining parcel outside the subdivision (which will then become part of the existing subdivision) (lot 1A) and with the other one‑half remaining (lot 1B) containing sufficient area to meet minimum requirements for width and area for a building site, is this a boundary line adjustment under RCW 58.17.040 and therefore not subject to the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW?

             (2) If the same lot were divided in half with the intent that one‑half be removed from the subdivision, sold, and attached to another adjoining parcel outside the subdivision with the other one‑half remaining in the subdivision containing sufficient area to meet minimum requirements for width and area for a building site, is this a boundary line adjustment under RCW 58.17.040 and therefore not subject to the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW?

             We answer both your questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]


             Turning to your first question, initially, it is important to note the purpose of chapter 58.17 RCW.  RCW 58.17.010 provides as follows:

             "The legislature finds that the process by which land is divided is a matter of state concern and should be administered in a uniform manner by cities, towns, and counties, throughout the state.  The purpose of this chapter is to regulate the subdivision of land and to promote the public health, safety and general welfare in accordance with standards established by the state to prevent the overcrowding of land; to lessen congestion in the streets and highways; to promote effective use of land; to promote safe and convenient travel by the public on streets and highways; to provide for adequate light and air; to facilitate adequate provision for water, sewerage, parks and recreation areas, sites for schools and schoolgrounds and other public requirements; to provide for proper ingress and egress; to provide for the expeditious review and approval of proposed subdivisions which conform to zoning standards and local plans and policies; to adequately provide for the housing and commercial needs of the citizens of the state; and to require uniform monumenting of land subdivisions and conveyancing by accurate legal description."  (Emphasis supplied)

             Additionally, RCW 58.17.020 defines a short subdivision as ". . . the division or redivision of land into four or fewer lots, tracts, parcels, sites or divisions for the purpose of sale, lease, or transfer of ownership. . . ."1/

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Redivision is an additional separation into parts.  As the facts you posed indicate, a lot, in a previously approved subdivision, is divided in half.  It is our opinion that this action constitutes a redivision.  Inasmuch as four or fewer lots are created, this would be a short subdivision rather than a subdivision (RCW 58.17.020‑-five or more lots).  If this is a short subdivision it is subject to the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW.  RCW 58.17.060 requires cities, towns and counties to adopt regulations and procedures for the approval of short subdivisions.  Therefore, the action you described would be subject to approval under your local regulations unless it falls under the exception enumerated in RCW 58.17.040(6).2/

             RCW 58.17.040 lists a number of exceptions to the application of chapter 58.17 RCW.  Your question specifically relates to RCW 58.17.040(6) which states as follows:

             "A division made for the purpose of adjusting boundary lines which does not create any additional lot, tract, parcel, site, or division nor create any lot, tract, parcel, site, or division which contains insufficient area and dimension to meet minimum requirements for width and area for a building site; . . ."

             The facts presented in your question indicate that a lot within an existing subdivision will be divided in half with both halves remaining within the existing subdivision.  Clearly, in this situation, an additional lot is created.  (Where the subdivision originally had a lot 1, it will now have a lot 1A and a lot 1B.)  This creation of an additional lot removes this action from the exemption provided in RCW 58.17.040(6).  Accordingly, it is our conclusion that the action described in question (1) is a redivision subject to the provisions of chapter RCW 58.17 [chapter 58.17 RCW] and we therefore answer your first question in the negative.

             Regarding your second question, the facts are similar except that the lot in question is to be removed from the existing subdivision and attached to an adjoining parcel outside the subdivision.  Unlike your first question, in this situation no additional lot is created.  We therefore turn to a further analysis of RCW 58.17.040(6).

              [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            The essence of your question is whether the division of a lot with each parcel containing sufficient area and dimension to meet minimum requirements for width and area for a building site constitutes a boundary line adjustment making it exempt from coverage under chapter 58.17 RCW.  Unfortunately, when the legislature enacted chapter 293 in 19813/ it did not provide a definition of "adjusting boundary lines."  The statute does not itself further describe what a boundary line adjustment is nor is there any legislative history available which clarifies the meaning of "adjusting boundary lines."  Further, this issue has never been addressed by any appellate court in this state.  Thus, it is necessary for us to glean the legislature's intent from what it did say.

             Black's Law Dictionary defines "adjustment" as an arrangement or settlement (citingHenry D. Davis Lumber Co. v. Pacific Lumber Agency, 127 Wash.  198, 220 Pac. 804, 805 (1923)).  "Adjust" is defined as "[t]o settle or arrange; to free from differences or discrepancies; . . ."  (Black's Law Dictionary).  Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "adjust" as ". . . settle, resolve . . . rectify . . ." and, "adjustment" as "the bringing into proper, exact, or conforming position or condition . . . harmonizing or settling (the adjustment of variant views) . . ."

             Words in statutes must be given their ordinary meaning where no statutory definition is provided.  State v. Roadhs, 71 Wn.2d 705, 708, 430 P.2d 586 (1967).  Pringle v. State, 77 Wn.2d 569, 571, 464 P.2d 425 (1970).  Thus, "adjusting" means settling or arranging; freeing from differences or discrepancies; rectifying.  Adjusting may be necessary where some controversy exists regarding the boundary line or where arranging or rectifying is required.

             The legislature recognized that boundary line disputes do occur when it enacted RCW 58.04.020 which reads as follows:

             "Whenever the boundaries of lands between to [two] or more adjoining proprietors shall have been lost, or by time, accident or any other cause, shall have become obscure, or uncertain,and the adjoining proprietors cannot agree to establish the same, one or more of said adjoining proprietors may bring his civil action in equity, in the superior court, for the county in which such lands, or  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] part of them are situated, and such superior court, as a court of equity, may upon such complaint, order such lost or uncertain boundaries to be erected and established and properly marked."  (Emphasis supplied)

             If the parties can agree on the location of the boundary line, pursuant to RCW 58.17.040(6), then they would not be required to resort to civil action under RCW 58.04.020 to obtain a determination of the proper location of the boundary line.

             An adjustment may be necessary where, for example, a boundary in an approved plat may need to be changed by a developer for proper installation of utilities to two lots.  Assuming no additional lot was created and no lot was left containing insufficient area to constitute a building site, such a change in boundary line would be a rectifying or arranging pursuant to the usual and ordinary meaning of the term "adjusting."  Therefore, this division would be an adjusting of boundary lines under RCW 58.17.040(6).

             "In placing a judicial construction upon a legislative enactment, the entire sequence of all statutes relating to the same subject matter should be considered. . . ."  Brewster Public Schools v. PUD No. 1, 82 Wn.2d 839, 843, 514 P.2d 913 (1973) citingAmburn v. Daly, 81 Wn.2d 241, 245-46, 501 P.2d 178 (1972).  Legislative intent, will, or purpose, is to be ascertained from the statutory test as a whole, interpreted in terms of the general object and purpose of the act.  Brewster, 82 Wn.2d at 843.  As previously cited, the purpose of chapter 58.17 RCW is to assure uniformity in the process by which land is divided and to regulate the subdivision of land.

             In the facts presented, the parties intend to establish a boundary line (cutting a lot in half) where none existed before.  Although there is no additional lot, tract, parcel, site or division, a new plat boundary line is created.  We do not believe this is in keeping with the purpose of the statute nor with our interpretation of "adjusting boundary lines."4/

              [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            It should also be noted that the definition of "short subdivision" speaks of redivision of land for the purpose of sale.  Here, the lot in question is being divided so that one‑half may be purchased by an adjoining landowner.  For the reasons discussed herein it is our opinion that the anticipated property alteration is the creation of a short subdivision under RCW 58.17.020(6) and not an adjusting of boundary lines under RCW 58.17.040(6).  Accordingly, we answer your second question in the negative.5/         We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/AGO 1980 No. 5 dealt with the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW.  In 1980 a "short subdivision" was defined as ". . . the division of land into four or less lots, tracts, parcels, sites or subdivisions for the purpose of sale or lease."  AGO 1980 No. 5 discussed an earlier recommendation to the State Legislature that the word "resubdivision" be expressly defined.  In 1981 the legislature amended chapter 58.17 RCW adding the word "redivision" to the definition of "short subdivision."  "Resubdivision" was stricken from the definition of "subdivision" and substituted for "redivision."

 2/There are also six other exceptions enumerated under RCW 58.17.040, however, clearly, none of them are applicable to your fact situation.  So we will not provide an analysis of them.

 3/Codified in part as RCW 58.17.040(6).

 4/There may be counties which have adopted ordinances which would exempt this factual situation from county approval.  Inasmuch as you have asked for our opinion regarding this situation, we assume no such ordinance exists in Island County.

 5/In so concluding we recognize that, as we did in AGO 1980 No. 5, there is a lack of uniformity among the various local jurisdictions in actual practice throughout the state.  The state legislature remains free to clarify its own intent, if we have not sufficiently done so, by expressly defining the phrase "adjusting boundary lines."

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