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Published: Thursday, 7/26/2001

Right-of-way rule quirk irks subdivision planner


TEMPERANCE - Fred Berning has designed so many of the new subdivisions in Bedford Township that he may be single-handedly responsible for the thousands of residents who have moved to Monroe County's largest township over the last 10 years.

As the designer for several popular local builders, Mr. Berning is the one responsible for making sure that each subdivision plan makes its way successfully through the maze that is the local developmental approval process.

But recently, one of Mr. Berning's designs had the misfortune of uncovering a quirk in the requirements for right-of-way along a primary road, which is the amount of land needed to allow for expansion of a road and other utilities.

On most of the roads in Bedford Township, 66 feet - 33 feet each way from the centerline - is used to calculate where to build, but on most section roads and under certain circumstances, road commission engineers say, the requirement is 120 feet.

The quirk left one of the lots in the newly built Chapel Creek subdivision unbuildable until township officials - who had already approved its design - can rectify the situation with a variance.

The discrepancy has angered Mr. Berning, who said that leaving enough room for a six-lane highway along roads like Douglas and Sterns is ludicrous.

“It's just blackmail. It's a land-grab, pure and simple,” Mr. Berning told Bedford Township board members last week.

Paul Bockstahler, chief engineer for the Monroe County Road Commission, said the right-of-way requirements his office was enforcing in approving Chapel Creek and other subdivisions date back decades and are nothing new.

“There's no change. The state did a right-of-way study back in the 1960s, and made recommendations to indicate what additional right-of-ways would be needed to match future needs,” Mr. Bockstahler said.

Monroe County and its townships accepted the recommendations at the time, but enforcement of the expanded rights-of-way were left to the local municipalities and to their planning commissions.

Over time, that enforcement seems to have become inconsistent.

Road Commission managing director Ralph Lange said the stringent requirements for building along primary roads are necessary, both in terms of existing maintenance and future expansion.

“We're the ones stuck with repairing [those roads] if they fall apart,” Mr. Lange said.

Bedford Township supervisor LaMar Frederick said township officials are spending time this week researching the local history behind the 120-foot rights-of-way on roads like Douglas and West Sterns.

The township also is taking steps to make sure that what happened in Chapel Creek doesn't happen again.

“Somewhere along the line there was a communications hiccup,” Mr. Frederick said.

“I'm not suggesting that this [120-foot right-of-way] wasn't there all along,” he said. “I'm just saying we've got a communication problem.”

Mr. Frederick said that township officials would have to review their policy on setbacks to make sure it is consistent with the road commission's requirements.

But with all the building that's taken place in Bedford over his five years in office, the township supervisor said he is surprised the potential conflict hasn't come up before.

“I would have thought if this was a problem, it would have come up much earlier,” Mr. Frederick said.

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