City Vows Action on Property and Salvage Dispute
A special meeting of the New Martinsville City Council was called for Thursday, June 22, for the purpose of discussing Electric, Water and Sewer budgets and for hiring at the Hyro Plant. Also, on the agenda, was discussion concerning Ann Lane.
The council, upon motions and seconds made, approved unanimously the agenda items and discussion turned to the controversial Ann Lane issue.
At issue is a dispute between the City, residents of the 200 block of Clark Street, and Jackson Towing. Ann Lane is behind the homes of the Clark Street residents and is what has been believed to be an open alley for travel and access to and from their homes.
More recently, however, local businessman Clarence (Butch) Jackson purchased property from the Shiben Estate in that area. According to survey maps, the land used as Ann Lane is not where it was thought to be, and it seems that the Lane was really partially on the private property of the Shiben’s, although it has been graveled and maintained by the City routinely.
According to City Attorney Carolyn Flannery, the city had thoughts of purchasing the land but later decided against it. Butch Jackson, however, purchased the property and decided to use it for an impound lot for Jackson Towing. After examining the survey maps, Jackson decided to fence the area in and started erecting posts near the middle of what was Ann Lane, thereby cutting off the residents access to their homes and garages from Ann Lane.
The dispute also involves whether or not the residents have built on Ann Lane. They believe the property they have used for many years, and has been maintained by the city, should remain open, and the city should use the power of prescriptive easement to force Jackson to move his posts and open Ann Lane back up. Also complicating the matter, and according to the city and the residents, is the more important matter of Jackson creating, what they believe, is an illegal salvage yard.
They allege the land is not being used as an impound lot but is in fact a salvage yard, and an illegal one at that, since it is in the flood zone and not more than 1000 feet from their homes.
Mayor Steve Bohrer opened the floor for discussion on the matter and asked if anyone wanted to speak. With only one lady giving a response, that her mother wanted to speak but was on her way and not there yet, Boher said the council would be going into executive session soon.
“I can tell you this, we are still in the process of gathering information which we need to act on; we’re not going to act until we know exactly what we’re dealing with,” stated Bohrer.
Bohrer then spoke directly to D’Ann Smith, a long time resident of Clark Street, stating he had given her information regarding prescriptive easement and asking her if she had acted on it.
Smith acknowledged receiving the information and said she had done more research on it. Bohrer said, “You have to do more than research it, you have to act on it. Smith took offense to that statement, claiming the city was trying to put the ball in the residents court, trying to force them to hire a law firm at their expense to enforce an illegal action of Jackson.
Smith questioned Bohrer as to whether the city was doing anything on claiming eminent domain. Bohrer answered, “That was never an option.”
Councilman Joel Potts made a motion to enter into executive session for the purpose of discussion on Ann Lane and Umstead Lane. Flannery spoke up, adding to the motion “Discussion of litigation.” Potts amended his motion to such, and it was seconded and passed unanimously.
After nearly 45 minutes in executive session, council returned and the meeting resumed with Mayor Bohrer updating the residents on action from the executive session.
“What I’m going to tell you may not give you any relief yet, but we have a plan. We have a path to getting this thing resolved. We didn’t have that before. We’ve enlisted a couple departments; we’ve talked with the DEP and the state, and we’re going to meet with them. We’re going to get whatever is legal, whatever meets the law. We are going to get this done,” stated Bohrer.
“We know what you are going through; trust me, this has not been an easy situation for us either, not that we have to deal with what you have to deal with, but we’re trying to get the path made, so we can get to the result that you want or whatever is legal, whatever is acceptable to the parties,” said Bohrer.
The mayor then opened the floor up for discussion; he stated he or the council would answer questions the best that they could.
D’Ann Smith asked what he meant by, “What is acceptable.”
“Are you saying what is acceptable to the city and us, as residents, and Butch Jackson?”
Bohrer responded by saying “Whatever is in the law.”
Smith countered that “Whatever is in the law might not be acceptable to us.”
“And you are right. There may be parts of this you’ll not like, and I don’t know for sure what’s going to be the end result, but we’re going to make 100% sure it’s done properly,” Bohrer said.
Mrs. Smith then brought up the question of eminent domain, asking the mayor if it was no longer open.
Bohrer stated, “There is too much litigation with eminent domain, and if the city can settle this without it, that’s what they should do. He told the group that, “As much as you don’t like to do business with certain people, sometimes you have to.”
A somewhat heated exchange then ensued between Bohrer and Brian Smith, when Smith countered with “Why?”
Boher said, “You just have to.”
Smith again asked, “Why?”
Bohrher said “Obviously you have never been in that type of situation.”
Smith said, “No, you’ve never been in our situation. I asked you a question. Why?”
Bohrer said that he was trying to be reasonable and the issue could go on forever. He said when litigation gets involved, and people, they like to sue.
“That’s fine. Everyone likes to sue! Didn’t the state come in and deem this an unlicensed illegal salvage yard?” said Smith.
When the Mayor answered “No,” Smith turned to Street Commissioner Gary Willey with the same question.
Willey answered, “That’s what they said.”
“So the state came in here and deemed it an unlicensed salvage yard. How do you defend an unlicensed salvage yard?” added Smith.
Bohrer disputed that by saying “No one has come in here; it’s only what the paper said, and that’s why we’re going to get with the state and talk to them, and find out what our options are.”
Willey spoke again, saying “Yes they did.”
Bohrer said the city attorney, at this point, had asked them to back off until they could get more information. Councilman Jeff Wright also said the prosecutor told the city to let the county handle it.
“Ok, the state has told you it’s an unlicensed salvage yard; that is illegal. You cannot have that within 1000 feet of a residence; you cannot have that in a flood zone; you cannot have it, it’s illegal,” stated Smith.
Flannery spoke up, saying it was her understanding that the county prosecutor has been in contact with the state, and they are monitoring the situation and they are making progress on that. The state is also going to provide a report, or some type of information, to Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught, and he will then take any action he can until they get a full report from them.
Smith said that Jackson had appeased residents by taking some vehicles out, “But he then keeps bringing more in.”
“He keeps on putting them in back of our houses, and that is illegal and a nuisance.”
“And it’s illegal; it’s so plain that you are not allowed to do this. These vehicles are sitting there for more than the allotted time of 72 hours. This is not temporary parking; this is not an impound lot. This is a salvage yard.”
“Stand up and do what is right and legal. It’s not legal. You know it’s not and we know it’s not. The state has come in and said so. It’s against city ordinances, do something,” said Smith.
Amy Dewitt, whose 90-year-old mother lives on the corner of Clark Street, next to Jackson’s, said a few years back when “he closed off Umstead lane that connected Ann Lane to Clark street,” she called and complained to the city, and she felt they were trying to help her, and then her mother received a letter from Jackson’s attorney telling her to quit harassing him. Dewitt asked the city to please move forward with this and get it resolved.
“I want that salvage yard removed, and the streets opened back up. My mother can’t even get her trash picked up,”said Dewitt.
Mayor Bohrer said he had been on board since last July.
“I intend to see this clear; that’s all I can do. Council has the same attitude towards this. If you want to work with us, fine, and I think that we’d be better off working together.” He said the city cannot get this done overnight, that it is a complex issue and takes time, which involves getting with the proper agencies and reaching a resolution.
“I cannot understand why we should have to go to that level when our city will not do anything to help us. When you will not uphold the law. It’s been said by the state, it’s illegal and everyone knows it is,” stated Smith.
It was questioned again why the city or county does business with Jackson’s when they know it’s an illegal operation. Councilman Joel Potts said they use Jackson’s because he gets to scene in a quicker response time. “We can’t have traffic backed up and tie up police officers for two to three hours waiting on a wrecker. That can’t happen,” he added.
Responding to Smith’s previous statement, Councilman Wright asked, “What has the state done? The state has more authority than we do. What have they done? What has the DEP done? Have you ever rode down the streets and sometimes seen things along the road that are just disgusting.”
Jeff Montgomery, a resident of Virginia Street, said he has been at the last three council meetings and keeps hearing the same thing.
“It seems as though they keep getting the same answers.” He felt the situation had gone on long enough and should be resolved. He said he recently purchased some property that included a city street, and according to his survey he owns “C” street. He asked a question as to whether or not use of an alley or street for a length of time constitutes an easement or eminent domain.
The mayor told the group it wasn’t going to be an easy fix. He said it could get complex and tied up in court. However, he did say the large issue at hand is the alleged salvage yard, and he would like to get it resolved as soon as possible. He said he didn’t like it anymore than the residents and he is working hard on their behalf.
Councilman Steve Palisco said he likes to put himself in the residents’ shoes when issues arise. “I like to think what I would feel like. I think I would be even more upset than you are,” said Palisco.
Attorney Flannery said she has had some discussions with Jackson’s attorney and felt they may be able to come to a resolution.
However, Ann Lane is another issue where the residents may also be forced to make some changes to get it back open in the right place. Some residents have evidently built in the lane and are blocking it in other ways.
Prior to the adjournment of the meeting, D’Ann Smith spoke about how the salvage yard has affected her and her family’s life as she tearfully described having to put her home, where she raised her children and and where she planned on living and enjoying with her grandchildren, up for sale because of the affects from the salvage yard.
“We have been law-abiding, hard working, tax paying and good citizens of New Martinsville and Clark Street. My husband is a hard worker who is a coal miner and spends a lot of time on the job to provide for us. I have had to look out my back door and see vehicles pulled in behind my house, that have profanity written on them. I have been flipped off; there are large pieces of equipment digging holes and spotlights shining in our windows. Our property value has gone down by $20,000. We have been there for over 15 years, and it’s our home. My husband took our daughter to ball practice, and when he returned, he couldn’t get back in the parking area because they had brought in junk vehicles. We can’t use our property that we have used for the past 15 years. Something is wrong here,” said Smith.
Although the citizens group understands that things take time, they say this has gone on way to long and is getting worse as each day passes. Plus it is illegal. They want a quick result.
Mayor Bohrer confirmed some of the complaints have merit, including the property being used as an unlicensed salvage yard. He said as of right now, they will be having a meeting with the state, county, and both parties to try and reach a resolution acceptable to both parties.
“Our intentions are to get this resolved as quickly as possible and to make sure it is done right. Again it is not as easy as some may think.”
After the meeting, some residents, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned the conflict of the city doing business with an illegal operation, as well as how Jackson had knowledge of the property being for sale. One resident said she felt uncomfortable knowing the city had the first option to purchase the property and then Jackson got it. The resident said she was troubled to know that the city’s attorney works directly with the law firm who did the deed work for Jackson.
She said this undoubtedly gave the city prior notice of what was to come, because it had been their intent to use it for the same purpose had they purchased it.