Southwick board looks at private way

A right of way leading to two parcels of property off Babb Road in Southwick. (Photo by chief photographer Frederick Gore)

SOUTHWICK – A small stretch of land is causing a big problem for the Board of Selectmen as it decides what to do about possible repairs and paving of Consolini Way.
The tax map notes a right of way which leads to 7 Babb Road owned by Peter J. Consolini, and 9 Babb Road owned by Paul J. Consolini. The question was raised about making repairs to the road and paving it because damage was possibly done by a town subcontracted plow.
Selectwoman Tracy Cesan and her husband Paul raised questions about why the town should be plowing the property in the first place.
“Consolini Way is not a private way, it is a driveway,” said Cesan. “I know you think I’m being difficult but I did my research.”
Cesan said Consolini owns a business at 7 Babb Road and while there is no floor traffic, according to an April 5, 2011 planning board meeting, there would be trucks and heavy equipment using the road.
“Did the trucks or heavy equipment cause the damage?” Cesan speculated. “And I believe the repair was already completed. This is not a repair.  This is an improvement.”
Board Chairman Arthur Pinell said snow removal of private ways was approved during a town meeting many years ago. Pinell said that it was reported that either a Department of Public Works truck or one of its subcontractors created the damage.  He also said a previous board voted to discontinue plowing.
“I think it was two years ago that the board agreed it would stop plowing that access way,” said Pinell. “Inadvertently, some plows continued plowing.”
Cesan said the bigger problem is that there are other private ways in town that are not afforded the same consideration.
“We have some private roads that we have neglected to salt and sand and plow,” she said.
Cesan cited a legal opinion from Town Counsel Kenneth Albano that stated that because town voters previously adopted a statute allowing for snow and ice removal of private ways, it could legally be removed. Albano also addressed the repairs.
‘The statute does not allow for repairs. However, it is my understanding the DPW may have been negligent in removing snow over the years which caused some damage to the road,” Albano stated. “If the town damaged the road, it would be permissible to fix it.”
Cesan said Albano was “misled” by Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart.
“I didn’t mislead anybody,” Stinehart said. “It wasn’t my department that sent that information – it came from the DPW and I don’t appreciate that characterization,” Stinehart told Cesan following the accusation.
The documentation provided to Albano included minutes of a March 19, 1973 Town Meeting where voters carried a motion made in Article 4 to “accept Section 6-I of Chapter 40 of the General Laws as amended, authorizing the Town to construct-reconstruct-resurface and repair certain private ways.”
During a March 20, 1956 town meeting, voters unanimously approves Article 51 “to adopt Section 6F of Chapter 40 of the General laws regarding repairs to roads that are private ways” which allowed for snow and ice removal.
Stinehart said no one was misled, and Albano was presented with factual documents from the DPW.
Stinehart said he considers Consolini Way a private way. He said that, particularly around the lakes, there are many small roads that the town cannot accept because they do not meet the legal standards for a town road.
“These roads pre-existed laws on how roads are put together,” Stinehart said, adding that in addition to these private roads used by property owners, like the Consolinis, there are unaccepted publicly traveled roads.
“One thing that comes into play is that there are a lot of substandard roads,” he said. “They will not be accepted under current regulations.”
Stinehart said over the years the town was able to use Community Development Block funds to work on some of those roads without using taxpayer money.
Pinell said last week that he was not aware that any repairs had been made to Consolini Way, which is about 500 feet in total, from Babb Road to past the homes and into the woods..
Cesan said if it had not been repaired, she would be in favor of that.
“I’m adamant Consolini way should not be paved.  Repaired yes, if it hasn’t already, but not paved,” she said.
The board decided to seek additional opinions before taking a vote.
“I think it should be referred to town counsel,” said Selectmen Russell Fox.

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