Friday, April 25, 2008
Berry Corner Lane feud nears resolution
An 11-year saga of neighborly disagreements, lawsuits and counter-suits on Berry Corner Lane may be reaching a long-overdue resolution. On April 14 the Planning Board welcomed John Boardman, Landtech Director of Engineering, to report on the status of the private dirt road. Under an agreement reached in June 2007, a group of residents and abutters would like to submit Berry Corner Lane for approval as a common drive.
The problem began back in 1996, “before America knew who Monica Lewinsky was,” observed Greg Peterson. The Valchuis brothers came to the Planning Board with a plan to create a sixth house lot on Berry Corner Lane, but were refused. The private road had been approved in 1968 as a “small subdivision” with lower roadway standards and a limitation of five lots, so the board would not allow an additional house unless the road was improved. The brothers owned property accessible through an easement from Berry Corner Lane, but were not themselves owners of the private road. The four owners of the road opposed the addition of a house and initially refused to upgrade. Over the years the road became potholed and received several ad-hoc repairs. Finally, the 2007 settlement provided that the Valchuises would improve the road to meet the standards for a common driveway, and thereafter be allowed to submit an Approval Not Required (ANR) plan to build a house on their property. The settlement also defined how past and future engineering and road maintenance costs will be divided between the parties.
As part of the settlement, Land Tech Consultants, Inc., representing the Planning Board, was to review the 2001 as-built road plan, inspect the existing road, and determine what changes are needed to meet common driveway standards. Boardman had visited the road in December, 2007, and submitted a report that identified some problems. The board recently received, by way of town counsel, a letter from the Valchuis’s engineers, Stamski and McNary, taking issue with Boardman’s report. Of concern was a request for additional grading at the end of the roadway which the engineering firm believed was “not maintenance-related.”
Boardman noted the minimum grading defined in the as-built plan would be ½%, and the section in question is “significantly less than that.” As a result, “It’s difficult to maintain and nearly impossible to get water to shed off,” causing winter icing and potholes. He said the road standard in Carlisle is ¾% but there is no specification for common driveways. However, a ½% grade is considered low. “It’s pushing it. If I were reviewing [the plan] today I would probably ask for more.” Boardman also noted other issues, including culverts ,that seemed in disrepair and could not be inspected due to debris.
David Freedman wondered if “It’s time to assess whether or not the [as built] plan is an acceptable plan. What I’m hearing is it’s not.” He added, “That plan has never been blessed by anybody,” and Boardman should be assessing the adherence of the road to common driveway standards, not to whether it matches the plan.
Boardman noted the Carlisle common driveway standards are loosely defined and do not specify engineering details, but they include general requirements for safety, access and maintenance. In the absence of specifics, his opinion “is informed by good practice.” He suggested board members take a drive on Berry Corner Lane. “It’s a bumpy dirt road through the woods. . . I’m not excited about turning around on it.” Freedman countered that it is Boardman’s responsibility to define what needs to be done to ensure safety vehicles can get around the cul-de-sac. “What they’re trying to avoid is what they’re going to have to do,” he added. “Tear it up.”
Carol Nathan questioned the delay in responding to the Stamski and McNary letter, which had been sent in February and referred to the Planning Board by Town Counsel two months later. “This needs to happen,” she said.
Chair Michael Epstein noted the Planning Board has an obligation to the owners and other parties to the settlement to ensure the road can be maintained. “What we want to avoid is what happened in the past: minimal patchwork.” Boardman was dispatched with instructions to detail everything that should take place to make the road safe and acceptable in his considered opinion, regardless of any pre-existing plan. “I’m not looking for a Cadillac road,” said Epstein. “Just a good, safe, road in passable condition within reason.”∆
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