2013-04-18 / News

Harbor board mulls how to regulate town rights-of-way

Some landowners make public passages private
By Margo Sullivan

Jamestown has 27 rights-of-way meant to give people access to the waterfront, but many of the easements are not maintained and only 13 are officially recognized by the state, according to Harbor Commissioner Patrick Bolger.

Bolger provided some history about the rights-of-way after a question came up during open forum at the Harbor Commission’s April 10 meeting. Jamestown resident Sav Rebecchi said he has witnessed several long-standing right-of-way violations in Jamestown Shores. He asked what the commissioners could do to deal with homeowners who illegally block access to the waterfront.

Rebecchi said he had personal experience with the problem after he bought a house 13 years ago in the neighborhood. The title deed was supposed to give him access to a right-of-way at the end of Mast Street, but when he tried to use it, he couldn’t find it.

Rebecchi called the realtor who had sold him the house and was advised to “walk right down to the bottom of the street.”

“Oh, just ask your neighbors,” Rebecchi remembers being told. “It looks like it’s a yard.”

He made another trip to the bottom of Mast Street and found the referenced “yard.” He also found a fence along the left side of the right-of-way and “a great big dog.”

“I never went in further,” he said. “This was camouflage. If I were a neighbor for many years, I would know the secret path.”

Several rights-of-way in Jamestown Shores are being camouflaged by people who decorate the right-of-way abutting their property and make the easement appear to be private property, Rebecchi told the harbor commissioners.

Rebecchi said he later became president of the Jamestown Shores Association, and when he tried to put the issue on a meeting agenda, he was shouted down. Much of the opposition came from Seaside Drive residents, he told the harbor commissioners.

Rebecchi said he dropped the issue, but was reminded about it recently during a Planning Commission meeting.

According to Rebecchi, an applicant came forward to tear down and build a house, and the engineer hired by the landowner kept referring to Mast Street as a paper road. He was describing the section abutting the right-of-way.

“This household for many years actually parked their cars on the right-of-way,” he said.

According to Rebecchi, one resident even built a garage on top of the right-of-way.

Rebecchi spoke up at the planning meeting and was later contacted by other Jamestown Shores residents who said they also were “fed up with not being able to have access.”

He looked into the situation, counted nine rights-of-way in the Jamestown Shores neighborhood, and tried to determine who was in charge.

“Some come under the authority of the Harbor Commission,” he said.

Bolger said he was part of a past harbor panel that completed a survey of the Jamestown rights-ofway. All 27 are town-owned property, but the Coastal Resources Management Council has officially recognized 14 rights-of-way. The remaining 13 are the town’s.

“The Harbor Commission many years ago participated in the survey of the rights-of-way and the access points,” he said. “We wrote a fairly length report and designated the 13 rights-of-way should be kept open and the Department of Public Works accepted responsibility to do that.”

Bolger said the surveys were completed and recorded on the town maps. The agreement was to keep at least a 6-foot-wide path open, he said.

“There’s been infringement on probably half the rights-of-way,” Bolger said, adding some of the most egregious instances had occurred along Spindrift, Spirketing and Spanker streets. He said rights-of-way were being used for parking or had been so obscured no one would realize there was a right-of-way there.

“The CRMC strongly recommends you mark these with signage,” Bolger said.

He said it became an issue with a neighborhood group that didn’t want a lot of notification about the rights-of-way. According to Bolger, the town opted in 1999 not to put up any signs.

“We as a commission should keep the 13 open and clear,” he said.

Police Chief Ed Mello suggested talking the issue over with the Town Council. He said if the rights-of-way are municipally owned, then the town should be able to enforce the rules. But because there has been no maintenance on the rights-of-way for 14 or 15 years, some residents might object to the changes.

“There has been maintenance on them,” Bolger said, except for Mast and Hull, the two south of the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge. “And probably nothing on Spirketing, Steamboat and Spindrift.”

Commissioner Ed McGuirl said the town solicitor might have to be contacted to discuss the issues about three residents who built garages or driveways over the rightsof way abutting their property. It was possible the town’s building inspector had given those residents a permit to build.

The Harbor Commission agreed to discuss the 13 rights-of-way as an agenda item at an upcoming meeting.

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