Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Planner says condemnation is only solution to ‘Farm Road’

Leggett rebuffed in trying to find alternative

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A county Planning Board lawyer has dismissed County Executive Isiah Leggett’s request to consider legal arguments that might allow the agency to give some Sandy Spring property owners road access they need to build, arguing that the only way the county government can resolve the dispute is for the county to take land and create a public street.

Frustrated property owners contend that deed references to the Farm Road that gave them access to their land date back more than 100 years, but that the road disappeared from many of the planning agency’s records in a series of more recent development approvals.

A neighbor placed a chain across the road where it joins her property in 2006. One couple has sued that neighbor, the planning agency and others in an attempt to regain access or recoup the loss of use of their land.

The planning agency held its stance that it cannot let the owners build homes on their landlocked property based on road access they claim that is disputed by neighbors.

In a March 4 letter to deputy county attorney Marc P. Hansen, William C. Dickerson, associate general counsel for the planning agency, said ‘‘the only public solution” for the residents is for the county to condemn the appropriate properties and create the street.

Further, Dickerson said , ‘‘[T]he commission does not ordinarily assign a street address, however, for any property that does not have adequate access to a public street” to enable police, fire and rescue vehicles to reach residents in an emergency.

In his letter to Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson last week, Leggett cited a 1975 case in which the Maryland Court of Appeals found that ‘‘where a street or road or other way is called for as a boundary and the grantor owns the fee in the street, the grantee gets a right of way by implication to the nearest public road.”

‘‘We note that several of the properties along the Farm Road already have addresses despite [the planning agency’s] current position with respect to addresses,” Leggett also wrote.

Of course, the landowners have ‘‘the option of finding a fair business arrangement among themselves,” Dickerson said.