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Village faces lawsuit over Pelkey Lane

February 23, 2010
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Senior Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - The question of whether or not Pelkey Lane, formerly Dorsey Terrace, is a village-owned street will be decided in the courts.

Arthur Walker, Sandra Walker and Rachel Walker filed a lawsuit last week in Franklin County State Supreme Court against the village, the village Board of Trustees and Public Works Superintendent Robert Martin.

The Article 78 petition says the village's failure and refusal to treat Pelkey Lane as a public street is "arbitrary, capricious and contrary, and wrongful in law." The Walkers are asking the court for a judgement declaring Pelkey Lane is a public street and directing the village to resume maintenance, including snow and ice removal. They also want the court to award them "costs, disbursements and attorney's fees" for bringing the case.

For months, Art Walker, whose daughter lives on Pelkey Lane, has been trying to prove that the 200-foot long, narrow road is owned by the village. He's provided the village with surveys, deeds and other documents that he says proves Pelkey Lane is a village street. But it hasn't been plowed or maintained in the last few years and has fallen into disrepair.

At board meetings last year, village officials said they found no recorded deeds or easements that prove it's a village street, although Dorsey Terrace was listed in the village's road inventory for state highway funding until 2003.

"Based on that, I believe we have an obligation to create a street there," village Mayor Tom Michael said at an Oct. 13 board meeting. "But it's not a street that we need, that's for sure. It's going to be a lot of money and a lot of work."

Village officials said they found it would cost about $47,000 to turn Pelkey Lane into a street, an estimate that doesn't include the cost of acquiring land it would need from the Saranac Lake Central School District. School officials have said they're not interested in giving up any district property and the board has taken no action on the issue.

Attached to the Walkers' petition are copies of several maps and other documents they say prove the village owns and has maintained the street, including a 1928 survey map showing a village street where Pelkey Lane is located and another map published by the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce that also shows Pelkey Lane.

They also cite minutes from a 1939 board meeting where residents of Dorsey Terrace submitted a request that their street be included in the village's road improvement program. The request was approved. In 2003, the village held a public hearing for the purpose of renaming various public streets as part of the implementation of the E-911 system. Dorsey Terrace was one of the streets listed in the hearing notice.

The lawsuit also says the street has essentially become public under village law because it has been used by the public for 10 years or more continuously.

"Prior to 1928 and continuing to date, there's been continuous use of Pelkey Lane, formerly known as Dorsey Terrace, by the general public, during which village workers regularly maintained and kept the street in satisfactory condition," the petition reads.

The only other property owner on the street, the Adirondack Arc, is also named as a party in the litigation.

"Not only is the ARC staff and clients in need of a properly maintained and repaired Pelkey Lane, but the building and other service providers providing services and supplies to said residential structure and to the clients of the ARC need a properly and timely maintained street," reads the lawsuit.

Michael told the Enterprise the lawsuit was expected.

"We expected Art to sue," he said. "We were kind of in a catch-22. We were either going to get sued by Art or sued by the school district for taking their land."

Michael said the village doesn't feel there's enough evidence to prove Pelkey Lane is a village street.

"We looked at the documentation," he said. "It appears to us that if there was ever a road there it was extinguished when they put Lapan Highway in and the school district was given the land. We really feel there is no longer a road there."

Reached at home Friday, Sandra Walker declined to comment and referred calls about the case to their attorney, James Brooks of Lake Placid. Brooks was out of the office until early March and unavailable for comment.



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