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Jim Kenyon: What Goes Around ... Comes Around

Published: 6/4/2017 12:24:59 AM
Modified: 6/4/2017 12:25:07 AM

Once upon a time there was a short dead-end street in an unassuming West Lebanon neighborhood safely tucked away from the hustle-bustle of Route 12A just north of the Hannaford supermarket.“Everyone got along” on Waterman Avenue Extension, recalls 84-year-old Bill Harriman, a retired furniture salesman who has lived there since 1958. Folks came together on holidays for potluck suppers and helped each other shovel out after big snowstorms.

But a couple of years ago, a line was drawn in the sand, or in this case, the asphalt pavement, that created a fissure in the neighborhood.

The cause of the rift?

A cul-de-sac, if you can believe it.

The cul-de-sac sits in front of the three-bedroom house that Mark and Susan Rose bought at the end of Waterman Avenue Extension in February 2015. Harriman remembers the not-so-long-ago days when kids rode their bikes around the cul-de-sac.

Then came the spring of 2015.

Without warning, the Roses, who had moved in only a few months earlier, put up no-trespassing signs and placed barricades — a mishmash of sawhorses, planks and ropes — to prevent others from using the cul-de-sac.

The Roses claimed the cul-de-sac, and a section of the street leading to it, belonged to them. In July 2015, Mark Rose told Valley News staff writer Nora Doyle-Burr that his family was bothered by headlights streaming into the living room window of their home.

But that wasn’t all that bugged the Roses. The tipping point came when an unknown caller complained to Lebanon police about their camper being parked in the cul-de-sac.

Mark Rose, who served in the Marines and now drives truck for a living, told me last week that calling the cops wasn’t very neighborly.

I see his point.

“If they had just come and talked with me, I would have told them, (the camper) was only going to be there for a short time,” Rose said “I just needed to do some work on it, and then I was going to move it.”

From his perspective, the call to police damaged neighborhood relations beyond repair. He dug out a property map that seemed to indicate the cul-de-sac was part of his family’s house lot.

Up went the barricades.

Enter Don and Donna Orlando. In 2003, they had bought the house next to the Roses for their daughter. “It was a beautiful, quiet neighborhood,” said Donna Orlando.

After their daughter moved in 2009, the Orlandos rented the house to a family that had just moved into Lebanon. When the Roses erected the barricades they blocked two neighbors, including the Orlandos’ tenant, from accessing their driveways. “She was a long-term tenant who we cared about,” Donna Orlando said. “We also had an investment in the property. We had to do something.”

Don Orlando approached the Roses about buying their house, which the city had assessed for $139,200, but they couldn’t agree on a price.

Perhaps the city, through its records, could determine whether the cul-de-sac was public or private property?

Sounds logical. Except city officials wanted no part of the dispute. Disappointing, for sure, and maybe a bit cowardly, as well, considering that after maintaining the cul-de-sac for decades, the city was now pretending it didn’t exist. After the barricades went up, the city stopped plowing the far end of the street.

In a July 2015 letter, Planning Director David Brooks informed residents that the city’s hands were tied. According to Brooks, “Matters of private real estate law can only be enforced through the court system.”

Which is where the dispute landed in late 2015.

Two neighbors joined the Orlandos in a lawsuit to have the barriers removed. But when it came to paying the legal bills, the Orlandos, who are retired and split their time between homes in Sunapee and Arizona, did the heavy lifting.

Lebanon attorney George Spaneas initiated proceedings in Grafton County Superior Court aimed at requiring the Roses to immediately take down the barricades that prevented their two neighbors from getting into their driveways. Shortly before the hearing in November, however, the Roses rearranged the barricades so the neighbors could get into their driveways again.

But the Roses continued to deny access to the cul-de-sac itself.

That led to a one-day trial at the North Haverhill courthouse in March. The Roses’ attorney, Peter Decato, of Lebanon, argued that the neighbors’ attempt to have the cul-de-sac declared public property appeared to be a “land grab.”

Spaneas countered with written evidence that the city had maintained the cul-de-sac since at least 1947. Harriman, along with former residents and Bill Hammond, a longtime Lebanon public works employee, testified the circle had been open to the public for decades.

Last month, Superior Court Judge Lawrence MacLeod ruled that the cul-de-sac was indeed public land.

The cul-de-sac would likely still be closed, if not for the Orlandos stepping up, Spaneas told me. The couple spent days researching the history of Waterman Avenue Extension at City Hall and the Grafton County Registry of Deeds.

“The city did nothing to help the residents of the neighborhood,” Spaneas said. “The Orlandos were determined to stand up for what was right and they had the means to do it.”

After receiving the judge’s ruling, the Roses disassembled the barricades. (The city has also said it will resume maintaining the cul-de-sac, including snow plowing.)

“Hopefully, this is the first step to getting back to being a neighborhood where people get along,” Don Orlando said.

Mark Rose isn’t sure that it will ever be a “normal” neighborhood, but there’s been one notable difference since he took down the barricades. “It’s nice to see kids out there riding their bikes around again,” he said.

At least that’s something, even if the neighbors on Waterman Avenue Extension can’t quite manage to live together happily ever after.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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