standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Residents of four roads are disputing the town's position that they should no longer receive services such as plowing and paving. The town has said the roads are private, but the residents argue that they should be considered public. 

Their lawyer made their case before the Town Council on Monday.

"My purpose in coming to this meeting tonight was to request the council stay enforcement of this private road issue so that we can get a better handle on this issue," the attorney, Michelle Buck, told the council.

Specifically, Buck asked the town to continue plowing her clients' roads until issues she raised were resolved. She represents Greenspace LLC, which she said has an interest in Guarino Avenue, Maggio Street, and Gavitt Avenue, three roadways that are in the Oak Street neighborhood. Greenspace LLC owns several properties on Trackside Drive, which is adjacent to Guarino Avenue. Buck, who formerly served as a member of the Town Council and as town attorney and town manager, also represents Susan and Michael Bookataub, who live on Michael's Way.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said he had directed the public works department to continue plowing Guarino Avenue, Maggio Street, and Gavitt Avenue because property owners had presented town officials with material showing that the roads probably qualify for acceptance as town roads. According to Rooney, the property owners are developing a petition for eventual submission to the Planning Board asking that the roads be accepted as public roads by the town.

Buck said some historical records indicate that the town owned Michael's Way and the other roads connected to her clients. "There are, at this point, more questions than answers relative to the status of these roads," she said.

Rooney also offered to have town crews continue plowing Michael's Way at least until a title search that the town is performing is completed, but he questioned whether Michael's Way will qualify for acceptance as a public road. "I can hold it in abeyance until the title search and see if it's going to change, but I spoke to the developer who said, 'I deeded it'" to a private property owner, he said.

The practice of the town plowing and providing other services on private roads has been on Rooney's radar for several months. Last fall he wrote to property owners on the roads and informed them that the town would stop providing the services. The Town Council intervened, saying that the residents had not been given adequate notice and that the plowing services were provided last winter.

But after the council's public works subcommittee and Town Attorney William J. Conley Jr. studied the issue, town officials announced in September that they had determined which roads in Westerly were public and which were private, and said services would no longer be provided to the private roads.

More recently Buck's clients received another letter telling them the services would no longer be provided. On Monday, Buck said the letter contained errors, including an incorrect citation to state law. "So if this letter was meant to put people on notice as to what the town was saying or what the process was, it's really inadequate," she said.

Rooney acknowledged that the citationwas wrong, because of a typographical error.

Buck said her clients have not had enough time to arrange for a private company to plow their roads and said there were "no mechanisms in place. There's no homeowners' association and no revenue available for residents of these roads to address these issues," she added.

Council President Christopher Duhamel thanked Buck for speaking to the council and noted that town officials had previously asked residents to provide information to prove their roads had already been formally accepted as part of the town's road system. Duhamel also asked that town officials side with residents in cases where there were questions or doubt about the status of particular roads.

Councilor Sharon Ahern, a lawyer, also thanked Buck but said she was not certain that the town was legally required to send residents a notice of the change in policy. "I'm not confident a letter is required," she said.

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