Council members Monday said they were losing patience with a group of property owners on Mount Blaine Drive over the legality of a gate installed across the private road.
"We've spent a considerable amount of time [on this]," said Councilman Michael McCaig, who pointed out that Monday marked the third meeting in a row in which debate about the gate consumed most of the public meeting time.
At issue is a metal gate installed in October by a group of eight residents who live on a private, unpaved portion of the road, between Old Oak Road and Nevin Drive. The remainder of the road was paved and taken over by the township in 2009.
Residents said they installed the unlocked gate to cut down on speeding traffic and to prevent motorists from using their road as a cut-through to Route 19 and West McMurray Road.
In October, council heard from resident Ronald Nee, who lives on the paved portion of the road. He characterized the gate as a public safety hazard that has to be opened and closed multiple times each day to accommodate school bus stops and delivery vehicles.
But residents on the private portion told council last month that the gate was always unlocked and that they haven't denied access to the 30 or so other homeowners in the development, built about 45 years ago.
At its last meeting, council decided to seek the opinion of public safety representatives to determine whether the township would potentially enter into litigation over removal of the gate.
They had plenty to say.
Township police Chief Harry Fruecht said that while the gate is unlocked it doesn't appear to be, with a lock and chain designed to further dissuade intruders from using the road. He said it took him an extra 23 seconds to unfasten the gate and move it from the roadway.
He noted that another officer may have seen the chain and lock and decided to use another entrance, especially in an emergency situation.
"Responders [such as police, fire and Emergency Medical Services] unfamiliar with this obstruction might be deterred [seeing the lock] and back up and go around and come in from the other side to get the call," Chief Fruecht said of a possible emergency scenario. "This only further delays the response and increases the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome if it is a life or death situation."
If an officer used an alternate route, it would increase response time by at least two minutes, the chief calculated. "... It is the opinion of the police department that this gate hinders our response," said Chief Fruecht, who also said it was unlikely that police would monitor the neighborhood for traffic, due to the impediment.
Township fire Chief Dan Coyle said his department would also be hindered in an emergency.
"The mere fact that fire personnel responding to an incident will have to stop and open the gate impedes critical response time," said Chief Coyle, who also estimated about a two-minute delay using an alternate route.
Thomas McMurray, director of the township ambulance service, said any obstructions can cause delays in response time, especially when seconds matter.
"There are alternative ways to access the residences in the Mount Blaine area, but in an emergency when a life may be at stake and time is of the essence, all possible options should be available if an unforeseen variable occurs," he said.
Councilman Robert Lewis said council should "take a stand" with its emergency personnel and order the gate to be removed. Other council members expressed concern that the statements of emergency responders would create a liability issue for the township, should an accident occur on the road.
"Two minutes can make a big difference in a life and death situation," said council President Frank Arcuri. "The township could be looking at liability and that's not fair."
"Liability could potentially exist because they created the hazard," township solicitor John Smith said of the group of eight property owners who installed the gate. "It creates potential issues."
But resident Jordan Russell said he believes that the contingent of property owners would take responsibility for the private road, which they consider to be their private property.
"How does the public have any input when it's a private road?" he asked council.
Mr. Smith told council and Mr. Russell that when the development was built, the road through it was maintained by local residents but it was open for all to use.
Mr. Russell, though, said those residents still have access and said he thought reopening the road to traffic would create more of a hazard than leaving the gate in place, due to speeding traffic and poor road conditions.
"I think you guys are opening a can of worms in letting the public use that road," Mr. Russell said.
"It's a question of public safety and access," Mr. Smith said.
But, Mr. Russell was adamant.
"We're not going to take down the gate unless we go to court," he said.
Mr. Arcuri told Mr. Smith to "do what you have to do," to resolve the issue.
Mr. Smith said he will contact a lawyer representing the group to perhaps hash out a compromise to avoid litigation. He won't sue the group unless council or Mr. Silvestri approves it, he said.
Janice Crompton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.