Town hopes to avoid eminent domain in making Stitt Road public
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Stitt Road is described by resident Stephen Wilson as narrow and bumpy, with holes and overhanging trees. The Guilderland Town Board will vote, at a meeting on Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m., on whether to make this private road public. The biggest factor in the decision is the Guilderland School District’s refusal to run buses on the road due to its condition.
GUILDERLAND — At a meeting on Oct. 3, the town board tabled a decision about whether to make Stitt Road, currently a private road, into a public road.
A handful of people spoke at a public hearing on the matter that night, including residents of the road, as well as Fred Wagner, who owns a parcel of land bordering the road, which he wasn’t convinced he should hand over to the town in order to make the road public.
If Wagner, who owns Helderberg Excavating and Trucking, doesn’t turn his land over to Guilderland, the town may take it by eminent domain, the legal power to take private property for public use.
The town board will meet again on Oct. 15, at which point it will hear from Wagner, who will have decided if he wants to turn his land over willingly.
In between the two meetings, Wagner was hoping to negotiate with Larned and Sons, which owns various gravel pits and parcels of land along the right-of-way, and George and Christina Audi, who own land that Wagner could potentially use, away from Stitt Road, as another way to access his gravel pits.
Wagner said he initiated the negotiations months ago, in an attempt to relieve the complaints about his truck traffic, and he finds the timing of the decision to make the road public suspicious.
“This goes way back to the 1970s,” said Supervisor Kenneth Runion. “Stitt Road was a private right-of-way that was used for the various gravel pits that existed in Guilderland Center.”
Other companies mined the pits before Larned and Sons, but, after the 1970s, Larned purchased many of the pits.
As part of a reclamation agreement, a new Stitt Road was to be constructed, built to town specifications, and part of the old Stitt Road was to be improved and brought up to town standards, so that, eventually, the entire length of it would be a public town road.
That hasn’t happened yet, but there is a push for it to happen now, said Runion, because the condition of the road has deteriorated to the point that the Guilderland School District will not send buses down it, and Larned and Sons wants to have the maintenance responsibility taken off of its hands.
Residents living off of Stitt Road complained at the public hearing on Oct. 3 about the truck traffic generated on Stitt Road by Wagner’s business. Helderberg Excavating and Trucking used to mine gravel, but is now primarily a landscaping business, with some excavation on the side.
Wagner decided, several months ago, he said, that he would ask the Audis if he could use a narrow strip of property on the back of their land, on Maeosta Road, off of Hurst Road, to bring his trucks out onto Osborne Road. In exchange for the use of a piece of their property, he said he would give them a piece of his property.
Wagner had attempted to negotiate with the Audis in the past, offering to buy 20 acres of land from them so he could use an old haul road to access his property, rather than a right-of-way running next to their home, after they complained about his truck traffic, but the Audis declined.
Wagner would have to negotiate with the Larneds, too, in order to bring his trucks out onto Osborne Road, because he’d still need to cross a very narrow section of their property.
If the Audis and Larneds would make these concessions, Wagner said, he could keep truck traffic off of Stitt Road.
Neither Donald Larned nor the company could be reached for comment.
“It would be a win-win for everybody,” said Wagner. “If everybody gives a little bit, everybody will have much more in the end.”
The residents, however, were not confident in Wagner’s plan.
Stephen Wilson, who has lived on Stitt Road for 47 years, said he felt that Wagner was misrepresenting himself.
“The whole goal for us has been to keep big trucks off of Stitt Road,” Wilson said. “Even if he got the concessions, it was clear to us he would still use heavy equipment on the road, and heavy traffic deteriorates even town-maintained roads.”
Wilson said he also suspected that Wagner wanted the land concessions because he was hoping to mine gravel from the land, although Wagner said there was no gravel left to mine there.
Wilson said that, when he and his family moved to Stitt Road, it wasn’t even paved.
“We came in here knowing that, unlike many people who have things like public services — leaf and garbage pickup, public transportation — those would be non-existent for us,” said Wilson. “We decided that, because it was a beautiful site, we would bite the bullet and go for it.”
He said he and his wife would drive their children down to Osborne Road to be picked up by the school bus, or the kids would walk to school.
Eventually, the Larneds paved the road, which Wilson said convinced the school district to drive buses down it.
Several years ago, though, the school district stopped running the buses down Stitt Road, because of the condition of it.
“It’s bumpy, and narrow, with holes and overhanging branches,” Wilson said.
The Larneds, according to Wilson, do not want to maintain the road anymore, because the company no longer uses it.
Wilson wrote a letter to the Larneds, asking them not to make a deal with Wagner, because of his concerns with Wagner’s intentions.
Now, however, Wilson hopes that the town will vote to make Stitt Road public, and he believes Wagner should agree to deed his parcel over to the town for one dollar.
Wagner told The Enterprise this week that he had made a last-ditch effort to negotiate with the Audis and the Larneds over the weekend, but had little success.
He said he would appear before the town board again on Oct. 15, and would consider turning his land over to avoid facing the legal proceedings involved with eminent domain, but, he said, he wants to talk to the board about the monetary value of the land.
“The town has to get that title to make it a town road,” said Runion this week. “Once we have it, we’d have a road base, drainage, and asphalt pavement.”
The supervisor said he also hoped to avoid eminent domain proceedings, which he said could be long and complicated.