Road Woes

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.” 

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