Lanesborough Loses Lawsuit Over Laston Park Construction

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The construction of the park led to a lawsuit against the town.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — When Bill Laston Memorial Park was built, the town completely cut off a neighbor's access to her property.

And now the town has to pay for it.

The town recently lost a court case against Virginia Mach, who accused the town of taking the gravel from her deeded right of way and then building the ballpark in her way.

Mach owns property on both sides of the town brook and the 12-foot wide right of way provided access to the rear portion of the land.

"A right of way was affected/eliminated by the creation of the ball field. There was a trial last summer and there was judgment against the town. We've been negotiating since then," Town Administrator Paul Sieloff said.

The town is on the hook for $84,900 to compensate Mach for lost logging revenues and her attorney fees, plus interest — currently estimated at about $600. The town is also required to provide a $7,600 tax abatement for the five years she was unable to use the right of way. In all, it's a total of $93,100.

Or, the town could have restored the right of way to a level sufficient for truck traffic.

"That would have meant literally putting a gravel road through the baseball field," Sieloff said.

On Monday, the Board of Selectmen opted to pay the bill instead of rebuilding the right of way. Selectmen Henry Sayers and Robert Ericson voted in favor of that option while Chairman John Goerlach abstained.

According to the complaint, in fall 2008, the town dug up gravel underneath Mach's right of way and installed soil and planted grass in its place. Additionally, the town installed the ball field's fence "very close" to the brook "in a manner that completely obliterated" Mach's right of way.

The construction made it impossible for Mach to drive on the right of way — particularly with trucks to transport lumber. The complaint claimed that Mach "has been precluded from any and all vehicular access to her west lot" and is "unable to sell timber."

After being made aware of the issues and deeds, the town fought its obligation to restore the right of way to a condition that supports trucks. In 2009, the town was attempting to find alternative access routes with Mach's attorney.

In January 2011, Mach filed a lawsuit against the town because it had "failed to provide the Plaintiff with a suitable right of way." The town and Mach had been trying to reach an agreement for restoration for about two years to no avail.

The case finally went to trial in August 2013 and, in November, Judge Daniel Ford entered judgment against the town.

The town had the options of restoring the right of way or paying a total sum of $84,900 plus interest for damages "including but not limited to costs for loss of access to her land and reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in connection" with the lawsuit.

Sieloff said the money will be raised by the taxpayers by going on the town's "recap sheet," which excludes it from the 2.5 percent levy limit. However, the plan is to find funds elsewhere to offset the cost. Sieloff said there will likely be a warrant article on the upcoming town meeting for the payment.

"It's basically added to the tax bill but our plan is to offset it later," Sieloff said.

Tags: ballfield,   lawsuit,   right of way,   

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