Francestown

Dispute over road classification

Petition seeks to bar public maintenance

Although several residents believe the town has maintained Cressey Hill Road since the 1970s, no formal documentation is available that clarifies the road as a town-maintained road — a Class V road.

A petition warrant article will go before voters asking them to order that no municipal or other public funds be spent by the town on engineering studies, maintenance, repairs or replacement of Cressy Hill Road, nor any bridges on the road.

While some residents believe Cressey Hill Road is a Class V road, the petitioners contend it’s a Class VI road. A Class V road is one that is maintained by the town and a Class VI road is maintained by the residents of the road, according to state law.

In a letter prepared on Feb. 9 and mailed to residents, Select Board member Abigail Arnold wrote, “References in town documents to Cressey Hill over the past 45 plus years are both contradictory and unclear. Minutes are brief and documents are missing.”

The earliest mention of Cressey Hill classified as a Class V road can be found in the Planning Board minutes from 1988, according to Arnold’s letter. She wrote that the Select Board determined Cressey Hill Road to be a Class V road that year.

“There is no question that the town has been maintaining that road since the 1970s,” Select Board Chair Betsy Hardwick, the sole resident of Cressey Hill Road, said in an interview Wednesday.

When asked if she knew of or had any documentation from the 1970s or earlier, Harwick said, “You’re not going to find that.”

However, according to Select Board minutes from April 24, 1989, “the Board voted that Cressey Hill Road is a Class VI road due to the lack of town maintenance on this road.”

In July of 1997, Hardwick signed an Agreement and Release document which permitted her to build a home on Cressey Hill Road. The agreement states that “the relevant portion of said Road upon which the Landowner’s real property fronts is a Class VI Highway.” If a resident wishes to build on a Class VI road, he or she must sign an Agreement and Release document from the town.

But as Hardwick said in an interview on Wednesday, “Nowhere in there does it define where [the relevant portion] is.”

The agreement doesn’t mention any portion of the road that is described as Class V, it only identifies Cressey Hill as a Class VI Highway.

Hardwick said she built her house way up on the hill on Cressy Hill Road, on the neglected part of the road that was not maintained by the town. The part the town maintained, according to Hardwick, was the portion near Russell Station Road, including the bridge that crosses Rand Brook.

“[The town] didn’t maintain the whole road,” she said.

Hardwick said that ever since she signed the agreement on July 30, 1997, she has continued to maintain the portion of Cressey Hill Road “from just past the bridge up to my driveway.” To her knowledge, Hardwick said, the town has maintained and continues to maintain the portion of the road from where it intersects with Russell Station Road to just past the bridge. Hardwick said that 1997, the bridge was in good condition, a weight limit had been posted on the bridge and the bridge had been maintained by the town. She said she never thought she would need to maintain the bridge because the town always did.

Prior to signing the agreement, Hardwick said, she went out to the property with the road agent at the time and put a stake in the ground, 100 feet or so from where Cressey Hill intersects Russell Station Road. She said that was to indicated the section of road that was Class V. She said Select Board members at the time went to the location and observed the established distance but Hardwick said this was not documented.

Hardwick said better documentation and better record keeping could help prevent confusion in the future.

“I think there probably were some missed processes,” she said, referring to the possibility that the town went back and forth with its classifications of Cressey Hill Road.

“I suppose it was never corrected by the state,” Hardwick said.

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