By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard held a lengthy discussion with attorney and town moderator Nicholas Gomes at its meeting on 6/11/19, about two paper streets that abutters are hoping to acquire.
The town will have to discontinue, or dissolve, the streets, then the abutters can take half on each side. However, there is some dispute as to who owns the parcels known as Hindle Street and Rotch Street.
Mr. Gomes told the board that the town did not follow proper procedure when it accepted the two roads, so, he said, if the town discontinued the streets, the ownership would not go to the town, which could then dispose of it, but to the original owner. Presumably, that would be the contractor from decades ago.
Instead of the town owning the streets, Mr. Gomes said the town has an easement over the land.
Paper streets are roads that exist on paper, usually from a planned development, but not actually built. Usually, they are real roads, with houses on either side, but at some point, the road ends on the ground, but continues on paper. If the paper street provides access to town property, or a private property that would be landlocked without it, then discontinuing the paper street can cause a lot of legal issues for the town.
Town Meeting has to vote to accept roads, and will have to vote to discontinue a road.
Hindle Street was accepted as a public way at town meeting on March 7, 1953, according to a letter Mr. Gomes wrote to the board outlining his research findings. Rotch Street was accepted on September 28, 1998.
Mr. Gomes said that he believed the town did not follow the “statutory framework to create a true public way” for both streets.
He said in the letter that he believed the town should leave the situation as it is, because a discontinuance would cause confusion, cost the town money, and provide no benefit to the town or residents at large, only to the closest abutters.
Kevin and Mary “Cathy” Murray, abutters for both streets, have requested the discontinuances.
The board discussed at length the method Mr. Gomes used to come to his conclusions, with some surprise that he believed the town did not own the underlying land.
Town Administrator Brian Noble and Mr. Gomes went back and forth a bit with Mr. Noble insisting it was not feasible to suggest that the contractor from 1953 still owned the parcels, and Mr. Gomes saying it was the present title owners. Yet, who is the present title owner.
So, nobody owns it, suggested Mr. Noble, because it is not on the deeds of the abutting properties, either.
Selectboard member Kevin Gaspar expressed concern that discontinuing the streets could create a hardship for owners of any lots beyond the streets, making it impossible for them to access their properties.
He said the town has to make sure they are respecting the rights of anybody who has developable land that has to be accessed by the roads in question.
Selectboard member David Desroches said he believed the town owned paper streets. Town Meeting accepted the road, he said, that should mean the town owns it.
He asked if they would sell it to the abutters, who would be getting land added to their yards.
Mr. Gomes said it would simply go to the abutters and get added to the taxable land they own.
Selectboard Chairperson Roger Cabral suggested that Mr. Gomes do more research on the titles to the Rotch and Hindle.
The plan, originally, had been to take a look at all the paper streets in town, but Mr. Cabral suggested they deal with only the two in question now. He asked Mr. Gomes to provide a cost estimate to the town before proceeding.
Meanwhile, the town will not pro-actively look for paper streets, but Mr. Gomes suggested that any abutters come forward with specific streets for the town to research.
Mr. Gaspar asked Ms. Murray if she was asking for the discontinuance so she could merge two lots and make it more buildable.
Ms. Murray said they were not sure if they would do that, but that could be a possibility in the future.
The issue will be on a future agenda.
In another matter, the board decided to increase the hours that the town barn is open on Saturdays. The extra two hours or so will make it easier for residents to dispose of leaves and yard debris.
Town Administrator Brian Noble said it was not a lot of money, but a “tremendous amount of convenience.”
The board also decided to open the barn later in the spring and keep it open through November. The change will not start until the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The board also voted to approve a change in the language of the petition to remove the fire department from civil service requirements. The change was made by the House of Representatives.
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