October 23, 2007


Marathon road at center of dispute

Landlocked parcel owner seeks private road access through rare state law

bob holt

Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Landowner Bob Upholt stands at the dead end of Lovell Hill Road in Marathon where he has a gate across a private road on his property. A neighbor wants Upholt to open the land so he can gain access to his landlocked property. 

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — In the 1960s, Arne Lih’s uncles signed an agreement with the state to put Interstate 81 through vacant land his family used for hunting and pasturing, making the parcel landlocked.
Back then, the family didn’t worry about how to access the land.
Neighbors were willing to let them use their private roads, said Lih, a 74-year-old Marathon resident who now owns the land, which totals 126 acres.
“There was a verbal understanding,” he said.
That’s no longer the case. Current neighbors have prohibited him from using their private roads to go hunting.
As a result, Lih is using a little-known state law requiring a jury of 12 Marathon residents to try to gain access to an approximately 5,000 foot private road that connects his land to Lovell Hill Road.
The process will begin Wednesday evening in Town Court.
“We’ve been paying tens of thousands of dollars in taxes all these years, and we’re not able to call it our own,” Lih said. “How would anybody else like it if they had gotten a piece of land and couldn’t use it?”
The law, Article 11 of the state’s Consolidated Highway Law, was adopted by the state Legislature in 1936, said Marietta-based Scott Chatfied, Lih’s attorney.
It is based on highway laws from 1890, 1908 and 1909, he said, and provides a way for people with landlocked property without another resort a way to access the property, he said.
“This is a relatively unique statute, designed to address a unique situation,” Chatfield said, referring to a landlocked  parcel due to the construction of a federal road. “In most cases with a parcel that is landlocked there are other ways, other avenues to obtain a right of access.”
The most common way is through dominant and servient estate, he said. When a parcel with road frontage is subdivided, resulting in parcels without road frontage, the land without road frontage has an easement over land with road frontage, Chatfield said.
Chatfield said Lih is his first client to use Article 11 of the state highway law, while Mahlon Perkins, the Dryden-based lawyer representing owners of part of the road in question, said he had never heard of the law until this case.
Lovell Hill Road residents Bob Upholt, 61, and his wife, Colleen, 59, say under the current circumstances the law giving Lih a chance to access their road is an infringement on their property rights. The couple owns the northern-most quarter of the private road.
The law is antiquated, and possibly even unconstitutional, they said.
“When this is over what we’re going to do is try to get this law changed,” said Bob Upholt, noting it would keep others in his situation from having to pay thousands of dollars for a lawyer.
Lih, on the other hand, said he hopes his case will give hope to people in his situation, such as owners of three adjacent parcels of land that were also landlocked as a result of the construction of Interstate 81.
“If a precedent kicks in, it would help and be a benefit to a lot of people,” he said.
Approximately 75 percent of the private road Lih is seeking to use is owed by Skaneateles resident Dale King. King said he would be willing to let Lih use his part of the road if the Upholts were also willing to do so.
But since he relies on the Upholts’ part of the road to let him access his land for hunting, he does not want to defy their wishes, he said.
Bob Upholt said the reason he lets King use his road and not Lih is because Lih has trespassed on his land a number of times.
Both sides will be able to present their arguments to a jury of 12 Marathon residents.
The jurors will listen to both parties, view the road and land affected and determine whether the usage of the private road is necessary. An easement would be granted if jurors favor access.
Jury selection begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Hall. Jurors will be chosen from a pool of 36 Marathon residents. Each party cannot challenge more than six of the people drawn as jurors.
If jurors determine access is necessary, they will figure out how much Lih should pay the Upholts and King for use of their road.
Lawyers on both sides said they are not sure if arguments will begin Wednesday evening or at a later date. Wednesday’s jury selection is open to the public, though space could be limited.




CRMC shows property plans to commission

45,000-square-foot  addition would be constructed on area now used for parking

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Concerns over the city’s diminishing tax base and the hospital’s effect on local flooding dominated an update on the Cortland Regional Medical Center’s master plan, which was presented Monday to the city Planning Commission.
John Laubscher, the hospital’s vice president of support services, showed the commission the plans for the properties that the hospital already owns.
The biggest component of the plan is the 45,000-square-foot addition at the corner of West Main Street and Homer Avenue, currently used for parking. That area is located between the hospital’s original 1911 building and the 1977 addition.
The three-story addition would house obstetrics, maternity and surgery, Laubscher said after the meeting.
One of the newest components of the plan discussed at the meeting involves purchasing the former Kleen Korner property at 112 Homer Ave. and building a new two-story, 12,000-square-foot medical office building in its place. It would have 56 parking spaces in a lot along Van Hoesen Street.
This would abut a parking lot on the south side of West Main Street that will be expanded east to Homer Avenue to increase the lot to 179 spaces.
It will be expanded to the site of five hospital-owned properties along Homer Avenue currently containing six unoccupied houses that Laubscher said are dilapidated. The demolition of the houses is scheduled for this fall.
This parking lot would have access from Van Hoesen, Harrison and West Main streets and Homer Avenue.
The hospital recently purchased properties at 34 W. Main St. and 7 Van Hoesen St. to make way for the project.
Other goals include finishing the parking lot along the north side of Alvena Avenue and the day care center parking lot along the east side of Homer Avenue — the size of the parking spaces needs to be expanded to meet the city’s criteria, and the gravel portions of the lots would be blacktopped as well. Laubscher said the two lots need to be landscaped.
He stressed that the execution of these plans won’t be immediate.
CRMC must obtain a Certificate of Need from the state before applying for the bonding for the addition on the corner of West Main Street and Homer Avenue. The projected cost of the addition is about $25 million, and the hospital would likely pursue a bond through the county Industrial Development Agency.


Tim Hortons coffee shop planned for Clinton Avenue

Staff Reporter

The city Planning Commission got its first look at a Canadian coffee shop chain that is proposing to take down two homes on Clinton Avenue, where it would build a local shop.
Representatives of the Tim Hortons restaurant chain presented the preliminary site plan for the new location, on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Cleveland Street. Two homes would be demolished to make way for the 2,400-square-foot restaurant.
Jack Krisanda, real estate manager for Tim Hortons USA, said the chain considered buying the former Golden Skillet Restaurant, now unoccupied, adjacent to the chosen location, but traffic was a concern.
“This site grabbed our attention simply because of the traffic volume,” Krisanda told the commission.
But the heavy traffic on the road in front of the former Golden Skillet would make it difficult to keep customers effectively moving in and out of the store’s parking lot.
The average service time that the company aims for is 45 seconds for the drive-thru window, and Krisanda said that was not possible due to the proximity of the Golden Skillet to the signaled, heavily-used intersection of Clinton Avenue and Pomeroy Street.
Krisanda said he was aware of the trouble that the Cortland Mobil Mart across the street had with getting approval from the state Department of Transportation for a proposed expansion, which is still on hold.
The chain did not want to be restricted on access in and out of the parking lot, he said.
The former Bob Evans Restaurant on River Street was also considered, but Krisanda said the company did not want to takeover the 90 foot pylon sign that came with the property because it was bordering a residential neighborhood — and the owner was asking too much.
The parking lot for the proposed location would have entrances and exits from Clinton Avenue and Cleveland Street.
The drive-thru lane would have enough room to stack up to 13 cars, said project engineer Joe Durand with TDK Engineering & Associates.


Legislator’s attendance record questioned

Staff Reporter

The newcomer in the race for Homer’s 11th Legislative District says if elected he will attend more meetings than his opponent, do all he can to bring more business to Homer and advocate for the county administrator to draw up a master plan for the county’s space needs.
Republican James Miller, 44, of Greenwich Street, is seeking to take over the office held by Democrat Steve Dafoe, 49, of 28 Clinton St.
Dafoe, who has served as legislator since 1997, could not be reached over the last week for comment.
Miller criticized Dafoe for attending relatively few meetings of the Legislature and legislative committees on which he serves.
According to the Cortland County Legislature’s Web site, in 2007 Dafoe has attended seven of 12 legislative sessions, four of 10 meetings of the General Service committee, of which he is chairman; three of six meetings of the Highway and Solid Waste committee, of which he is vice chair and none of the eight personnel committee meetings.
“If he’s not attending the meetings, he can’t be sticking up for people in District 11,” Miller said, noting legislators who do not attend the meetings cannot vote on projects or other business.
Miller said he will be available evenings for the monthly Legislature sessions, and has received an OK from his employer, Bus Parts Warehouse in Manlius, to attend morning committee meetings.
Miller is a salesman for the company. He said he will do what he can to bring more businesses to Homer, in part so people do not have to commute to jobs as far away as he does.
One goal, he said, is to get the former Homer Oil building full of industry again. The building is being used by Angeline Elevator Co., based in Scipio Center, for grain storage and shipping along the adjacent railroad, according to the company.