On Wednesday night the Orangeville City council met in a special meeting to address concerns of residents and land owners on Draper Lane concerning the city's request that those people sign quit claim deeds on some of their property that borders the road.
At issue was the fact that some residents felt that the city was trying to take land that didn't belong to them through a series of actions the city has taken. However Mayor Bart Cox explained that some of the citys intentions have been misconstrued.
"The road is what it is," he said. "This is not the first time this kind of thing came up. At one time the city was using private streets to travel on and they oiled them. We had no intention of trying to claim property that we don't use."
The mayor explained that the road, which has been used by the public for a number of years, is a public right of way based on state law, because it has been used as such for at least 10 years.
"The city has no intention of building a new road," he said. "We just want to own what we use."
The council chambers were about three quarters full of people, many of whom had questions about the situation. At some point in time someone had mentioned to some of them that the city wanted a right of way of 60 feet along the road, which would mean property would come from one side or the other or both. One of the questions from the group was what the city did want width wise.
"All we want is what we have been using," said the mayor in response to the inquiry.
However, what the city has been using was not very clear to many who were at the meeting, at least initially.
A complicating factor in the dispute about what the city wanted was also precipitated by one landowner subdividing off one lot to sell it for a home. Some in the city saw this, and realized that if a subdivision was going to be built, according to the zoning code, the road would have to be 60 feet wide.
"What about the subdivision that might go in on the street?" asked Tim Reid, whose family owns some property along the road. "It seemed strange to me that the city came around inquiring about signing over property to them at about the same time the idea of the subdivision was being proposed. If the developer wants to build a subdivision there he should give the land for the road from his side."
The mayor told Reid that the two things had nothing to do with each other and he added that what the city wanted would benefit residents.
"All we were thinking of is that we need to have the land in question because the road is public," said Cox. "And by taking this land off the landowners hands it would lower their tax burden too."
Someone from the audience asked the mayor to explain what the "road is what it is" meant when it came to the width that the city wanted to have.
"It's not just the oiled part of the road," said the mayor. "It's what we use. It includes where we push snow off, any utility lines or buried utilities, things like that."
One of the audience members said that their mother was ready to sign the quit claim deed as set forth by the city, but asked if that would mean the city would never take more of her land. When the city couldn't assure her of that, she refused to sign.
"The city council of today, cannot bind the city into an agreement that would limit other councils in the future," said Craig Smith, the attorney for the city who stood up to explain the laws on roads. "It is against state statute to do that. Today's legislative body cannot make a future body be locked into what they decide."
Smith went on to explain that as far as roads go, streets become streets in different ways.
"Some are dedicated, others are deeded over by private owners," said Smith. "But we do know that if a road has been used by the public for 10 years or more, it becomes public. Once that has happened the only way a road can be let go is for the governing body, in this case the city council, to vacate the road."
After Smith addressed the group and number of questions were posed, particularly one that asked him to define how wide the road would have to be.
"You have very wide streets here in Orangeville," he responded. "The way it looks to me the farthest the street could extend without the city buying property from the owners would be from the present fence on one side to the fence on the other side."
One person in the group said that the city's attempt to get people to sign over their property for the road had created a lot of pressure from neighbors on those who hadn't signed.
"No one has to sign what we proposed," said Cox. "You said something about pressure. Has anyone from the city come to your house after we proposed it once and asked you to sign it again?"
No one said yes to the question and Cox said it was never the intention of the city to "take anyones property."
Smith said all he could see the city wanted was to straighten out the property borders along the road.
"If for some reason the city needs a larger road there, then they could use eminent domain to obtain that land," stated Smith. "In this way the city is trying to make the road a dedicated road by dealing with each landowner on a one to one basis."
The mayor pointed out that at the next city council meeting the council would be happy to deal with each land owner and asked those that were interested to get on the agenda to do so.