A group of eight property owners who installed a gate across Mount Blaine Drive in Peters told council members Monday they have not blocked access to other residents on the street and that they put up the barrier to prevent motorists from using their unpaved road as a cut-through to Route 19 and West McMurray Road.
"Every lot owner in that plan has the unrestricted right to use that road," said council President Frank Arcuri, who is a lawyer.
Council last month heard from another resident on the road, Ronald Nee, who said the gate was a public safety hazard that has to be opened and closed multiple times each day to accommodate school bus stops and delivery vehicles. After hearing from Mr. Nee, council sent a letter to the residents who installed the gate, warning that if it wasn't taken down by Nov. 7 council would consider legal action.
"It is not their intention to limit or restrict access to anyone," said the group's lawyer, Emmanuel S. Anthou. "We had a lot of people going through there."
The issue came to a head recently when a majority of the 39 property owners in the 45-year-old development lobbied council to take over their road. The township agreed and assessed the owners for improvements, such as paving and widening the road.
But a portion of the road between Old Oak Road and Nevin Drive remained the private property of the eight homeowners living in that section, where the road was still unpaved. Those residents did not want the township to take ownership of the road, and they prefer taking care of the maintenance and snow plowing themselves, Mr. Anthou said.
Although that portion is private, it still must be open and available to everyone else in the development, according to township regulations and covenants in the property deeds. Mr. Anthou acknowledged that "the development was built with the understanding that the road would be used by all of the homes," but he said the gate is never locked and it is simply a way for residents to cut down on "excessive use" and speeding drivers zipping through the neighborhood. Teenagers also sling gravel on the road, he said, and make "obscene hand gestures" to residents.
Although anyone can open the gate and pass through, Mr. Anthou said the hope among his clients was that motorists would take another route.
"I think this comes down to being inconvenienced," Mr. Anthou said.
Mr. Anthou said the group of eight property owners signed an agreement in April 1986 to form a mutual maintenance group to care for the road. Three of those original signers still live on the road, but the rest have moved, he said.
"All of that burden of maintenance is falling on these eight [homeowners]," Mr. Anthou said. "These owners want to assert their right of ownership."
Although that particular argument is among property owners, council became involved because it was concerned about access to police, fire and emergency vehicles.
"We believe it's a public safety issue," township solicitor John Smith said.
Mr. Anthou said the homeowners had notified the township twice about the problem with speeding and traffic on the road, but township officials said it was a neighborhood dispute and that they didn't want to be involved.
Residents of the private road said they notified emergency services and the police department about the gate and heard no concerns.
"There's no hardship ... caused by the installation of this gate," Mr. Anthou said.
But, Mr. Smith questioned what would happen if a person with a disability wanted access to the road or inclement weather caused an accident at the site.
Councilman David Ball said he remained concerned about the principle of the matter.
"People in the area have the right to use the road," he said. "You're restricting the rights of people."
Councilman Robert Lewis agreed.
"I don't think we should tolerate someone putting up a gate, locked or unlocked," he said.
But other council members said they felt that if public safety officials weren't concerned that the township should drop the issue and let the neighbors hash it out in court.
"If there's no concern being raised by the police, fire or EMS, why are we wasting our time?" Mr. Arcuri said. "It's a private dispute."
Council members agreed to table the issue until they could get input from emergency personnel.
Also Monday, council:
* Approved a 12-month contract with Glassmere Fuel for 33,000 gallons of gasoline and 22,000 gallons of diesel fuel for a per-gallon price of $2.71 and $3.15, respectively.
* Accepted the donation of a 1-acre lot from developer Earl A. Ducouer at the Great Meadows housing development. The township may sell the lot or use it to expand adjacent open space in the development. The builder in the development, Ryan Homes, has indicated it has no plans to build on the parcel.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.