The Coordinate

A steel fence post blended into the backyard, as if it were meant to be there for some purpose, like holding up firewood or stacking lumber. The surveyors—Igor “Eager” (The Kid) Kidinsky and Glenny “Glutton” (The Old Man) Dale—were looking for property pins along the alley, and neither one at first glance recognized this steel fence post as a property pin.

Glenny walked along with plats and metal detector. Igor Kidinsky followed, toting shovel, pick, hammer, and 200’ tape.

The side yard fence was conspicuous. This fence was long and straight. It had been well built. These old lots were skinny—created in the days of horse or foot travel when it was necessary to have the town laid out with skinny lots because “open space” in those days meant too much walking to get from house to house.

So, there was a good chance the fence had been built long ago along a surveyed line. And, indeed, they found an old monument at the end of this fence. Glenny saw that it was typical of monuments set by an old surveyor who worked from about 1960 to 1990.

Glenny and Igor again studied the survey plats they had with them: the 1902 subdivision plat, a couple of “Land Survey Plats” of lots in their block, and an ALTA plat. Glenny knew that he could not obtain any plat of the survey that established this particular monument from the original surveyor, but if you called that old coot, he would cuss a room full of sailors to shame.

With this documentation and the field evidence they had just gathered along the alley, The Old Man began piecing together the history of the survey of this block. Original block corner monuments were set in 1902 by an unidentified surveyor, none of them left on this block today. A known local surveyor—the old coot—had set the four corners of these two skinny lots as early as 1960, with the only two left along this long plank fence they were standing next to.

And the steel fence post—a foot or so away—turned out to be next to a monument belonging to the ALTA survey done just a few years ago by a young surveyor known for his solid precision and stout ego. This ALTA was mostly for property on the other side of this alley.

Igor Kidinsky studied the ALTA for some time. Its young surveyor had to go across two streets and proportion in new block corners, while weighing in only a smattering of scattered interior lot corner pins. This process of proportioning and calculating the lot corners was presented carefully on the ALTA plat. The calculations were done with great mathematical and computer skills, according to the young surveyor who did them. This young surveyor obviously was not going to fudge an ALTA survey! Eager (the Kid) could not find any better mathematical logic for the position of their alley/lot corner than what was presented on this young ALTA surveyor’s plat.

The morning sky was so blue that it radiated joy. This little town was suddenly quiet and still, as if no one wanted to spoil the beauty by making noise. The Old Man was the first to pierce the silence by saying softly, “Obey the moose!” as a young calf strolled by, without any fear of the two humans standing in an alley.

“It looks like this old pin is about a foot off,” concluded Eager. “How are we going to break this to the landowner?”

“I agree that it’s about a foot off on a computer screen,” responded The Old Man. “But, luckily, we live here on the ground and not on a screen. This old pin was likely set when all the original block corners were still in, in the 1960s. That was before our ALTA surveyor friend was born.

“I personally know that the old coot who set these has located all the original town block corners, so that is well established. Just because there’s no plat left for this old pin, and just because it doesn’t fit the perfect calculations of a modern proportion exercise, doesn’t invalidate any of the property rights that it established for decades.

“Remember, without the four original monuments of this block, our ALTA surveyor is merely using a best fit mathematical model to calculate this point, whereas proportion means, by definition, ‘Use the monuments you find!’ So, this is not even a true proportion,” lectured The Old Man.

“This fence, and this house, are decades old. The man who built this fence did so carefully, in a straight line from the old coot’s one pin to the other. There is no visible sign of fraud or reason why this landowner would want to move his fence and pins over one foot. The landowners up and down this side of the alley have honored and relied upon this old coot’s pin, in good faith, in peace, which is their right as property owners.

“I’m not going to say anything to this landowner! Why start an endless legal feud over the difference between a computer screen node and on-the-ground, sensible logic,” asked The Old Man to the clear blue sky.

The Old Man pounded a new lath stake next to the old coot’s pin at the end of the fence, flagging it on top. He gathered his metal detector and began pacing east to the next search area.

Eager (the Kid) started gathering the tape, shovel, and stake bag, but he stood up and took a few steps into the back yard. He picked up a few pieces of firewood, then stacked them carefully against the steel fence post. He admired his work for a moment, then moved on.


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