By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — The town will plow snow on Oak Drive, a private road, but won’t be responsible for any damaged incurred to road that already has fallen into severe disrepair and won’t return next year unless the road is fixed.
The town doesn’t typically plow private roads, including Shannon Drive, Country Court and Cotton Hollow Road, because it doesn’t own those streets. Residents sued the town in 2015 due to a broken promise from a previous campaign to plow and maintain the road. The court ruling resulted in a stipulation for the town to plow, collect garbage and maintain the storm water drainage, sewers and basins, First Selectman Gerard Smith said.
Oak Drive is a two-lane, 2,000-foot private road with 16 residents in 10 homes. The road was constructed in 1972, according to town officials.
The road was originally built and maintained by the late James Wisniewski, who developed the homes as Oak Drive Enterprise, which owned the private road. Ownership transferred from the late Wisniewski to his son Andrew Wisniewski, who recently died. It now has no current owner, according to town attorney Stephen Studer.
Smith said Public Works employees inspected the road this fall to discover it is in serious disrepair. Workers are concerned with breaking equipment while plowing as some of the manholes are raised, he added.
“They’re worried about the equipment and they’re worried about doing further damage to the road,” Smith said.
The Board of Selectmen sent out on Tuesday hold harmless documents for Oak Drive residents to sign that say the town will plow as best as possible but the town is not responsible to repair any further damage done to the road. It also states that if crucial repairs aren’t made, the town won’t be able to plow it next winter, according to Smith.
Selectman Michael A. Krenesky agreed with Smith at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, which drew just under a dozen residents.
“I’m in full agreement with the approach here that we will do the best we can to keep the road open during this winter, but if the road is not repaired, then this may be the last winter we’re plowing until the road is repaired,” Krenesky said.
Many residents at the meeting said they never agreed to maintain the road in the stipulation.
Studer said residents are correct that there’s no specific statement in the stipulation requiring residents or the owner of the road to maintain it. However, it does state that it is a private road and it’s not a town road, he added.
“It’s clear that the town has no responsibility to maintain or repair a private road,” Studer said.
Smith said workers clean the basins and perform the required maintenance and have been plowing up to this point.
“You could put Jersey barriers out there and close that road right off,” Smith said. “It’s a private road.”
Smith said he can’t do anything on private property without the expressed approval of the owner.
“It’s not the town’s responsibility to fix a private road,” Smith said.
Oak Drive residents voiced their disapproval and concerns. “I don’t think anywhere in the stipulation it indicated who is responsible for maintaining the road,” said Thomas Yoxall. “I don’t think it ever said anything about the town or residents.”
“There was no stipulation in parentheses or anything as long as it’s plowable. It was the town that would plow the road,” said Louis Krokosky.
Studer said it was implicit that the town would plow, sand and salt the road if it’s in decentBeacon Falls puts foot down over state of Oak Drive and passable condition.
Mark said it’s not fair to older residents would wouldn’t be able to maneuver an unplowed road. “I want to come to an agreeable solution on this. I want to know how we can best solve this issue because I’m 33 years old. I can get around my road if it is not plowed. It’s not ideal but I can do it. It is not fair to these folks who cannot shovel, cannot plow,” Zurek said.
The road is not a new issue. Smith brought James Wisniewski to town hall to find a solution about a decade ago. Wisniewski offered to put together a homeowner’s association to maintain the road but none of the residents in attendance at the time stepped up to work with him, according to Smith.
Smith advised residents to contact the real estate agents and attorneys involved in their purchases to find out how they got into a property without a maintenance agreement.
Chris Vizzo bought Wisniewski’s property, and his attorney told him that that after Wisniewski’s death, no one was maintaining the road and an association was never set up.
“That LLC needs to just end up getting dissolved and a new LLC, which would be the homeowner’s association, take over,” said Vizzo, who is a self-employed general contractor. “That’s how it’s normally done. I’m in this type of business. I put in a few private roads. You got to have a homeowner’s association for a private road.”
The road needs a full reconstruction estimated to cost more than $750,000. The road can be reclaimed and become a dirt road with proper drainage with estimates of about $100,000 according to Smith.
“Come up with a contractor to repair the asphalt the way it is now then meet with our town engineer and ask him if its passable for a plow but you people have to pay for that,” Selectman Peter Betkoski said. “That is not unrealistic.”
Smith said Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 will still be able to respond no matter the condition of the road.
The town will use a smaller Ford F550 truck to plow this winter, according to Smith.
“We’re willing to work with them in any way we can to help them get their road straightened out,” Smith said.