HANSON — The shortest distance between two points is a straight line is an adage that holds true just about everywhere — with the possible exception of state statute.
The board has pledged to continue discussing the issue with town counsel and planning officials with an eye toward presenting an update on the situation within a month.
Several residents of Lakeside Drive, a private road, crowded the Select Board meeting room Tuesday, June 14 to find out if there was a way to deal with the fence a resident with property on both sides of that road has built across it, blocking both vehicular and — in effect — pedestrian traffic as well from Rollercoaster Road.
Rollercoaster Road can no longer be accessed from Lakeside Drive.
The town does grade and plow Lakeside, as it does all private roads approved by Town Meeting vote every year.
“I, too, have many, many questions as to what the objective is here,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I think that’s beyond the scope of what this board can do. … The elephant in the room is private ways in general.”
The owner of the property in question at 252 Lakeside Drive did not attend the meeting, but the session was held for residents to voice their concern about the situation, but FitzGerald-Kemmett cautioned the board was legally limited in what they could say.
“I’ve believed right from the beginning this is not a town matter,” said Select Board member Jim Hickey. “It’s a private matter. It’s a private road, but I want to help and the board wants to help as much as we can.”
He said he would like to speak with the owner of the property to find out why he is putting up the fence.
“We’ve heard everything why we don’t want the fence there,” Hickey said, noting they have no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed.
“It is private property,” he said. “What I would like to talk to this gentleman about is why he did it.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the board will ask Town Counsel Katherine Feodoroff to work with the Planning Departments and Building Inspector on the issue.
“I don’t know that this is anything we’re going to be able to satisfy,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “That said, I’m going to try to effectuate some positive change here. I don’t know what that’s going to look like.”
Select Board member Joe Weeks said he understands the concern over discussions with town counsel that have to be conducted in executive session, but stressed the board is “on the side of trying to do what’s right for everybody.”
The erection of the fence may result in properties on the road not being in compliance with current dead end road zoning regulations,
But Police Chief Michael Miksch said that, as a civil matter, his authority over the situation is limited, but stressed that response times are not going to change.
“We’re going to get there,” he said. “We don’t usually use Rollercoaster Road to get to Lakeside — it’s a narrow road, it’s not a road I want to go down with an emergency vehicle, unless I have to respond on that road.”
He said there are roads like it all over town, and it presents more of a quality of life issue. Land court limits plantiffs in such cases to those directly aggrieved, not a town, he added.
“This is mainly a civil issue and I cannot deal with civil issues,” Miksch said. “There’s very few civil issues that police can enforce.”
Miksch noted that Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., could not attend because he was working mutual aid on a large fire in Rockland.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said that if the board felt the situation did present a public safety risk, the decision it reached [to permit road closure] probably would have been different.
“We’re trying really hard to come up with a solution that makes sense,” Weeks said, but the fact that it is a civil matter ties the Select Board’s hands. “We haven’t come up to a situation like this in this way before.”
His concern is what it could do to the community and the open communication has been needed.
“This is where we’re going to need Feodoroff’s office to work with the Planning and Building departments to see if that’s an option for a path forward,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, stressing it is only an avenue to be explored.
Zoning Board of Appeals member William Cushing of 236 Lakeside Road said he grew up in the area and said the primary intent appears to be access to Oldham Pond, where the road closure at Lakeside and Rollercoaster would create a dead end with a right of way easement to the pond.
“We have a number of situations like this in Hanson,” he said. “This is the equivalent of saying, ‘I can put a gate up and allow who I want to pass, when I want [them] to pass.’”
It is the zoning enforcement officer’s role to enforce regulations through fines.
Nick Rubino of 279 Lakeside Road, who has lived there for five years, is an engineer with concerns about safety on the road and longer response times by taking the alternative route to Rollercoaster.
Another Lakeside Road resident, who is handicapped, said that, with one less access road and the frequency of storm damage to tree limbs, she is also concerned about ambulance response times.
“That is a safety concern for me,” she said. “I don’t feel safe.”
Matt LeBlanc, of 140 Rollercoaster Road, said his driveway has become one of the turnaround spots since the fence went up.
“I was going to put a sign up: ‘I didn’t close the road, please use my driveway,’” he joked. But seriously, he said he sees the fence as a safety issue.
“Either it’s a private way that you can enforce or it’s a private way that can be traveled through public access — you can’t have it both ways,” Cushing said.
Feodoroff said the Planning Board’s role in looking at access is the creation of new lots.
“This is a little bit different,” she said.
“To not enforce this as a zoning enforcement issue is to set a terrible precedent,” Cushing argued. “I’m not saying you’re saying to set that, I’m saying [that] if it was to be set it’s a terrible precedent because Hanson has a lot of situations like this.”
Feodoroff said that, from a zoning enforcement perspective, there is a question over where a zoning enforcement officer have the right to enforce a private agreement between parties of a legal deed.