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Town records and aerial photos can be examined to see approximately where property lines fall with respect to visible features. This will give a rough idea. If a definitive answer is needed a surveyor must be engaged by the resident. The Town does not survey private property. The information examined may be helpful in describing the potential survey site to the surveyor. The Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers website may be of some assistance in selecting a surveyor.
Fences are normally erected on or immediately adjacent to property lines. Since property lines are precisely defined and are most often invisible, it is essential that the location of property lines be identified by a Registered Professional Land Surveyor.
Calls to the Highway and Grounds Division and to the Planning/Community Development Department (which includes “Conservation”) are often referred to the Engineering Division for determination of “public” or “private.” Some instances can be determined in-office from records and the town-wide Geographical Information System, but some require field investigation. Response time depends on weather conditions and workload, but answers are normally delivered within a couple of days. If the tree is within Town property it cannot be removed without the approval of the tree warden. Healthy trees are generally not removed. Trees with unhealthy limbs will be prioritized by the tree warden for pruning. Dead trees will be prioritized by the tree warden for removal. If the tree is mostly or entirely on private property, its removal or trimming is not the Town’s responsibility.
The status of a “way” must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, but in most cases a way that was laid out as a street but never constructed (often referred to as a “paper street” because it shows up on plans but does not appear on the ground to be a street) is not even owned by the Town. Unless they were specifically laid out or accepted as public ways by Town Meeting (or more recently by the Mayor and Council) they were probably created years ago when an owner of a large tract of land divided the land up into lots and streets, then sold off the lots without ever retaining a specific deed to the streets. Many of the streets were constructed and became public ways or were left private ways open to public travel. To resolve the issue of ownership of undeeded private ways, the State Legislature passed laws that essentially say that an undeeded private way is owned to the centerline by the abutters but cannot be altered to prevent it’s use for roadway purposes. The laws pertain to the unconstructed ways as well. So the answer in many cases is that you already own to the center of the street, but you can’t do anything on the property that would prevent it from being used for roadway purposes. The way to eliminate those restrictions on the property is a long and expensive process through the Massachusetts Land Court where the court will require that others with rights to use the land for roadway purposes be identified and that the court be satisfied that they no longer need those rights.