Friday, October 5, 2001
Berry Corner residents outraged by 'unauthorized' road work
Berry Corner Lane, a shady byway that belies its pastoral title, is the continuing locus of turmoil. Five owner/residents of the private way confronted the conservation commission September 27, facing five members whose demeanor suggested no desire to go another round. A discordant exchange resulted, with the unhappy plaintiffs leaving empty handed.
Owners oppose improvement
The history of the dispute, the roots of which date back to 1978, reached a turning point four years ago when Michael Valchuis sought an okay from the planning board for construction of a house on property he owned with his brother at the end of the lane. The board at first turned him down, but later agreed to reconsider that decision if the dirt drive were improved. Valchuis agreed to the condition and went to the conservation commission for approval of a required Notice of Intent to work in the wetland buffer zone. The commission warned that town bylaw required the owners' signatures before work could be approved. This the owners of the private way refused to give on the grounds that they wanted their roadway to maintain its rural character.
Valchuis insisted that an easement he held that permitted him to use the driveway gave him the right to proceed (without the other owners' approval). However, the commission denied the application, listing environmental obstacles plus the need for the parties to resolve the ownership issue. When Valchuis appealed the decision to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), that agency, after a long legal process, issued a Final Superseding Order of Conditions (FSOC)that gave an environmental go-ahead but specifically noted that it was not commenting on the ownership matter.
In the meantime Valchuis had filed two separate suits in Superior Court, one against ConsCom and the other citing the planning board. The former was settled in August of this year in negotiations between Valchuis's lawyer Howard Speicher and Carlisle's town counsel, with the commission eventually adopting the text of the DEP ruling.
Planning board requires maintenance agreement
The planning board litigation is still in limbo. The board will not approve the building lot unless the road is improved to current standards which include an enforceable maintenance agreement signed by all the owners. At an August 20 board meeting, Valchuis offered to upgrade the entire roadway, but sign a maintenance agreement for his portion only. The other owners have refused to sign. According to a previous account in the Mosquito, the ensuing exchange became heated, with threats on both sides, but no resolution.
Is there a work permit?
At the Thursday ConsCom meeting, Dick Wells spoke first for the Berry Corner Lane contingent comprising his wife Judy, Keith Therrien, Thierry Copie and Nicola Mordelli. He recounted a number of calls to conservation administrator Sylvia Willard asking for information about the ConsCom suit and later its settlement terms, but was told she could not comment because all discussion had taken place in executive session. He said that on September 6 when he informed the commission that Valchuis's contractor had begun construction work on the lane, he was told to contact the DEP. A subsequent call to planning board member Michael Epstein had brought a comment that the digging should not be happening, but no action resulted. A call to police chief David Galvin elicited the reply that all the department could do was "keep the peace." The upshot, he complained, has been that the 'unauthorized' construction is now nearly complete; there has been no environmental or other oversight; he has been unable to locate a permit of any kind, and all this "in spite of the fact that that the bylaws of the town of Carlisle say it can't be done."
Therrien joined the commentary, observing, "I can't believe this. I've been a contractor for years, and I've never encountered anything like this." He contended that truckloads of soil had been removed without any word as to where it was taken. When he tried to find out what happened to the requirement for the owners to sign the documents, he was told it had been waived by town counsel.
ConsCom has no jurisdiction
Chair Tom Brownrigg pointed out that the issue of ownership was not within ConsCom's jurisdiction, and that it seemed to him that the issue belonged in Land Court. Commissioner John Lee recommended that the plaintiffs talk to the board of selectmen, if they felt that the town has let them down. Commissioner Jo Rita Jordan added, "This issue should have been settled between the parties. As it is, the town has spent all kinds of money on lawyers." She then advised that they should go to their own lawyers for action.
Therrien finally agreed that ConsCom couldn't resolve the problem, and said he now knew the next step to take. Shaking his head, Mordelli said, "I find it interesting that town counsel waived a town bylaw." Added Copie, "There must be a permit somewhere."
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito