July 19, 2008
Willet sues to have gate removed
Town wants strip of Forshee Road open for Melody Lake Association
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Greg Kowalski, right, looks at an aerial property map of the Forshee Road and Melody Lake area in Willet with homesteaders Lynn and Larry McCoach in front of the McCoaches’ outdoor cooking area they call the Starlight Lounge. The McCoaches have been sued by the town of Willet to have a gate removed that the couple and hunting camps owners such as Kowalski put up on the road in 2004.
WILLET — A yearlong dispute over a gate across a town road near Melody Lake will apparently be resolved in state Supreme Court in Cortland County.
The town has filed a lawsuit against a couple that lives near the end of Forshee Road who put up the gate in November 2004. The town wants the gate removed.
The gate has essentially cut off a 50-foot stretch of land the Melody Lake Association had never used, but now wants to access.
Connie Sears, the Melody Lake Association president, said the association wants to build a pavilion on its Forshee Road property.
“We’re just trying to get a gate removed so we can use the property,” she said.
The narrow dirt road has not been maintained past the gate for at least 23 years, but the town does maintain about a half-mile strip before the gate, plowing the road in the winter, Larry and Lynn McCoach said Friday.
Larry McCoach put up the gate and Lynn McCoach is named in the suit along with Judy Barniak, who bought approximately 100 acres of land along the road 23 years ago with Lynn McCoach.
No date has been set in Supreme Court to hear the case, according to a Supreme Court clerk. The town filed the suit June 25.
Larry McCoach installed the gate with the cooperation of a handful of owners of seasonal camps on the road.
Greg Kowalski, a caretaker of one of the other properties beyond the gate, said camp owners wanted the gate because hunters would hunt deer illegally by shooting onto their property from their vehicles, and camps had been vandalized.
Larry McCoach said he consulted the highway superintendent at the time, Ted Kemak Sr., and the owners of seasonal camps on the road, one of whom bought the gate.
The gate is about a half-mile from the road’s intersection with Route 41. It blocks about 0.2 miles of Forshee Road. The McCoaches said they understood the town stopped maintaining the 0.2 miles of the road in the early 1970s when no one lived on that stretch anymore.
Willet Highway Superintendent Eugene J. Turshman stated in a June 19 affidavit that he was aware of a metal gate being placed across Forshee Road, which replaced another gate that had been placed there eight years ago.
Turshman said the metal gate was open and not locked so travelers could use the road. In the late summer or early fall of 2006, he requested it be removed but the McCoaches refused. About one year ago they placed a lock on the gate.
McCoach said Turshman talked to him but never asked that the gate be removed. McCoach said Turshman informed him that Willet Supervisor Sandy Doty was going to have the gate torn down.
Before the lawsuit was filed, Doty had said the road had been essentially abandoned and a group of naturalists, known as Folk Hill, had put a gate across the road. The McCoaches, their three children and Barniak make up Folk Hill.
Doty said Melody Lake Association members and Folk Hill residents generally attend the Town Board meetings and he always tells them the board will not discuss Forshee Road. The next Town Board meeting is Monday, the first one since the lawsuit was filed.
Larry McCoach said he was served with the suit Thursday.
“We tried to come to an agreement with both sides,” Doty said.
Sears said the association has been fighting for a year now and has spent about $3,000 on legal fees. Scott Chatfield, of Marietta, is the association’s lawyer now. The association has not joined the town lawsuit and is hoping it does not have to spend the money to do so.
Doty said association members have access to the land from Melody Lane. Melody Lane is another dirt road that curves around the lake and is very narrow.
Larry McCoach said giving access would mean 85 or more property owners would be traveling Forshee Road and that would pose a safety concern for the family.
McCoach pointed out that even if the town did not have certification of abandonment, state Highway Law says no certification is needed. Roads that have not been maintained for seven years or more are considered abandoned.
“We’re going by the law. I don’t know what they’re going by,” Larry McCoach said.
“We chose to put up the gate to keep the land safe,” said Lynn McCoach. The McCoaches said their children bike along the road.
Turshman’s affidavit states that negotiations broke down about three months ago. Chatfield said the association has not been negotiating directly with the “gatekeepers,” but it became apparent that the issue would not be resolved without litigation.
“We want the free and unrestricted right of way to our property — the right to use the road,” said Chatfield. He said the association wants nothing more. He also said the association would only use the road occasionally.
Chatfield said association members had talked to the McCoaches before, but have not talked to them for a while. Chatfield said he has not tried to talk to them.
Sears said the last time the association members talked to McCoach was at an April 20 Town Board meeting. At that time Carol Rosati asked about access, and McCoach said he had a walkway they could use and there was no reason to drive.
Sears said McCoach’s wife told her there was no reason they needed to come up Forshee Road.
Sears said the McCoaches had given out around seven keys to people living on the road.
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