Road Woes

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Proposed law would regulate private lanes 

Dirt roads and private roads — often synonymous in Philipstown — drew renewed attention this month as the Town Board proposed tighter laws on development in areas with difficult terrain.

At the same time, residents asked the town either to take control of their private road for maintenance or to get their public road paved.

At its Sept. 2 monthly meeting, the board voted 5 to 0 to advance two draft laws. The first would create Upland Drive and Ridge Road development districts, in southern Philipstown, limiting construction there. The second would require private roads anywhere in town to conform to the standards of public roads, although developers could seek exemptions. 

The board scheduled public hearings on both drafts for Oct. 7.

The Upland Drive-Ridge Road measure would cover Upland Drive, which runs between Winston Lane and Old Albany Post Road; Cliffside Court, a dead end off Upland Drive; and Ridge Road between Aqueduct Road and Sky Lane. 

Under the proposed law, lots in those areas would need to be at least 2 acres; impervious surfaces could not cover more than 10 percent of a lot; existing ridgeline protection laws would apply; and a project involving a slope of 30 percent or more would need a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. 

The draft notes that property there remains undeveloped for a reason, such as the rugged landscape, although demands for new housing and potential sale of land owned by Putnam County could trigger development. 

“These roads are tricky, at best,” said Supervisor Richard Shea. “When you drive and get to the top or end of them, they sort of disappear. They no longer can be considered a road. They’re more of a trail.” 

Town officials want to manage the situation better, he said, especially given the increasing number of storms. “The more development, the more stormwater run-off,” he said. “We’re certainly not removing anybody’s right to develop a lot. These lots exist and property owners have rights. And we firmly support those.” 

He added that the proposed restrictions reflect efforts “to protect residents and would-be buyers, and take care of the environment in a pretty sensitive area.” 

The second proposal mandates that access routes to new developments of 10 or more lots comply with public road standards unless they receive an exemption from the Planning Board. Access to developments with up to nine lots must include a 14-foot “travel-way,” with an 8-inch base of compacted gravel or crushed stone; enough drainage to prevent water from crossing the surface; and grades that accommodate cars, emergency vehicles and snow and ice removal. The law would require that all private access routes and travel-ways be covered by private road maintenance agreements. 

At the meeting, Claudio Marzollo and two neighbors broached a related topic: paving Lane Gate, which connects Route 301 at the edge of Nelsonville with Route 9.

Marzollo acknowledged that 20 years ago, he favored preserving the dirt surface but “now I’m saying, ‘Please, please, can we pave Lane Gate?’ ” 

He pointed out that the Philipstown Highway Department had recently been busy there, but “last night [Sept. 1] all the work they did was wiped out” when Tropical Depression Ida swept through town. “The reality is we’re ruining our streams” because the material used on dirt roads disintegrates and pollutes them. “It’s a mess,” he said, and paving “will save the town money and save people in town a lot of aggravation.”

Two neighbors endorsed his proposal. “If we’re talking about being environmentally conscious, let’s get real on this,” one said.

However, Marzollo admitted that others will likely “thump and scream about safety and faster driving” on a paved surface.

Betsy Calhoun, who lives on Old Albany Post Road, a historic dirt road, spoke up immediately. If handled properly, she argued, “dirt roads are less expensive than paved roads.” She recommended a change in town drainage practices, because, she said, the main surface of a dirt road often stays in place in fierce rains but “the sides are a disaster; they’re ravines” and must be “replaced over and over.” 

Shea said the board would consider the Lane Gate issue, but that it could not promise quick answers. 

Six days later, the board met with five of the eight homeowners on Brookside Drive, who proposed that the town take over their dead-end road off Canopus Hollow Road, or at least help with snow plowing. They also noted that the town owns 19 Brookside lots.

Shea responded that the lots came from the county, with provisions preventing their sale or development. He also said the town cannot assist with snow removal because it would set a precedent and spark pleas for such private-road aid across town. 

Above all, he said, “it’s difficult for us to rationalize taking on a small private road that doesn’t connect to anything. If it’s not a connecting road, it’s usually not in the overall interest of the town to take on the liability.”

He advised the residents to adopt a road maintenance agreement. Town Attorney Stephen Gaba offered to send them a sample document as a guide.

Before they left, one resident thanked the board for its honesty. “That’s important,” she said. “Now we know we’ll have to do something ourselves.” 

10 thoughts on “Road Woes

  1. When an emergency vehicle is not able to respond to an emergency due to the horrendous conditions on some roads (or “tricky” conditions, as Supervisor Richard Shea put it), and someone is permanently injured or dies, the Town Board, especially Shea and his successor, John Van Tassel, should be sued for negligence. They know there is a safety issue and they are ignoring it. [via Facebook]

  2. More money has been spent fighting and repairing dirt roads than what would have been spent to pave and repave all the dirt roads multiple times. [via Facebook]

  3. My mom fought to pave Old Albany Post Road, so they paved from Travis Corners and stopped past our house. When I last saw it six years ago, it was still dirt from the top of the hill to Saunders Farm, all the way to Route 9. It is brutal on a car. [via Facebook]

  4. Albany Post Road is the worst. The amount of upkeep, the storms, the damages, not to mention wheel alignments. And for what? To say it’s historical? Keep the homes historic, not the road. [via Facebook]

  5. Highway departments and towns should be sued for their contributions to the destruction of our wetlands. The salt, oil and silt goes directly into what used to be Barrett Pond. [via Facebook]

  6. As a home inspector, and also a firefighter in the past, I give a lot of thought to those areas where I have a home inspection and where I know fire suppression will be hampered by narrow, washed-out dirt roads. It means only being able to get a short wheel-base fire engine up there with maybe 500 gallons of water. That will run out in about three minutes of steady flow out of a combo-tip 1 3/4-inch hand line, and faster if they use a 2-inch line.

    Then they’ll have to set up a tanker shuttle and that will take time and make the road impassable, with 3- or 5-inch lines having to run back to a source engine where the porta-pond is set up.

    Those roads clog up quickly, so it also means first-responders may have to hike in a tenth of a mile or so in their gear with tools and would be exhausted before they start their operations. If it’s March or during a period of heavy rain, the first engine may get bogged down in mud, requiring a mutual-aid engine to come in from the opposite direction, which may or may not be feasible.

    My advice: Buy a lot of smoke detectors and get good fire insurance. [via Facebook]

  7. If you buy a home on a historic dirt road, why would you expect it to be paved because you moved here? [via Facebook]

  8. Living on a private road is much more expensive than I thought it would be. Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea would like to keep private roads private, but honestly it’s a disservice to many people in the community.

    Many private roads fall into disrepair, which leads to dangerous conditions for everybody. Some of these roads don’t lead anywhere except our neighbors’ houses. Snow, ice and flooding conditions are left for individual homeowners to deal with at their own expense. I had a giant tree fall on our private road; the town wouldn’t even remove that. There were elderly people trapped in houses past the tree.

    These issues have been lingering here for many years, and all we hear is the town doesn’t want liability for roadways in their town. Think about that.