Strip of land called public debate rages

March 15, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

A dispute over a 12-foot-wide strip of land between two Union Bridge homes is continuing as town officials make plans to maintain the grassy strip as a public right of way.

Robert Bell, a cabdriver who rents one of the homes that straddle the land, received a letter Friday from Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr. that described the process through which the town learned of the dispute and discovered that the land was town property.

Mr. Bell said he was not told of any of the council meetings at which the dispute had been discussed.

"They have been talking about this property for months, and I knew nothing about it," said Mr. Bell, who has been living at 17 S. Main St. for three years. "How do you make a decision that affects two sides of an argument without having both parties present at the discussion?"

Patricia Dolly, who rents the home at 19 S. Main St., and her landlord, Sam Myers, had asked the council at its January meeting to look into the ownership of the alley.

The strip of land is about 12 feet wide and 212 feet long. It is about one-third cement from Butterburg Alley; the rest is covered with grass. It ends at an 18-inch high curb at South Main Street.

Mr. Myers and Ms. Dolly said Mr. Bell had been harassing them about walking across the grassy area, which lies outside a fence between Ms. Dolly's yard from Mr. Bell's yard.

Ms. Dolly said Mr. Bell has screamed at her children when they have walked through or played in the area.

She also said she is going to court April 1 to testify about an incident in which she said Mr. Bell grabbed her and "raised back his arm as if to hit me" as she mowed the grass on the strip.

The Town Council called a special meeting March 2 to announce its findings: A public-access way is shown between the two properties at 17 and 19 S. Main St. on town maps dating to 1872. The council voted that night to maintain the strip of land -- which appeared to be an extension of Pilot Alley that goes as far east as Farquhar Street -- as a public right of way.

Ms. Dolly and Mr. Myers attended the special meeting. But Mr. Bell said that until his wife, Margaret, showed him a newspaper article about it, he knew nothing about the council's involvement in the dispute.

"I saw [Mayor Perry L. Jones] the Thursday before that meeting, and he never said anything to me about it," Mr. Bell said.

Russell Doehrer, a Finksburg photographer and Mr. Bell's landlord, said he did not know that the town was investigating the ownership of the strip until the mayor called him to say the matter had been settled.

"The mayor called to tell me that there is an alley there, and I said there isn't," said Mr. Doehrer, who bought the land in 1989.

Mr. Doehrer said a survey he had done in 1990 by RTF Inc., a surveyor, did not show an alley on any maps as far back as 1856.

Mr. Jones said his office put information about the special meeting in local newspapers but did not notify any of the parties involved.

"We didn't call any of them," Mr. Jones said. "The newspapers printed the information, and that was all. Mr. Myers must have read it in the papers. All we have to do is advertise the meeting as public. We don't have to call anyone."

Mr. Bell said that he told the mayor about a year ago that he might consider buying the alley from Mr. Doehrer but that Mr. Jones never got back to him about it.

Mr. Jones said the council decided it did not want to make a precedent of solving neighborhood arguments by selling town property.

"We decided that if we sold the land to one of the property owners we would just make the other property owner mad," Mr. Jones said. "We have about a half dozen of these strips around town, and we didn't want to get into a habit of selling them in case we ever wanted to do anything with it."

Mr. Bell said he is also concerned about being intentionally left out of the alley discussions because the council considered him the "bad guy" in the situation.

"They only know one side of the issue," Mr. Bell said. "We could have all sat down and threw ideas out on the table. Now I get this letter in the mail saying it's town property. But I couldn't get a letter or a call from anyone telling me there were any meetings about it."

Mr. Jones said that by taking over maintenance of the land, he hopes to quell the anger that has arisen between the two neighbors over the past year.

"I hope everyone can act like mature adults and try to get along," he said. "Just from what we heard, there have been threats on both side of the argument. We hope this will be a way to keep peace among the troops."

The council has made no specific plans for the land but is considering putting a cement sidewalk between the two homes.

The alley will not be used by vehicles, Mr. Jones said.

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