The Derry Town Council has decided to table discussion on “release of public servitude” of a portion of Lawrence Street, after Councilors expressed confusion about the proposal. he issue came to the Council’s attention at its June 18 meeting, when a staff report from Michael Fowler, director of Public Works, asked the Council to release a portion of the right-of-way between Beacon and Sargent streets, a “paper street” dedicated in 1902 but never completed.
Steve Robichaud, owner of 12 Lawrence St., brought the request for Release from Public Servitude because he wanted to build a garage on a portion of the paper street. Though Robichaud originally asked for 240 feet by 40 feet, the request was modified by town staff to 180 feet by 40 feet when fellow resident Nancy Trow, who owns three Lawrence Street lots, asked for a portion of the right-of-way to be retained so she could have access to one of her lots. Trow also said she mowed and maintained the piece.
Town Administrator John Anderson said the dimensions of the piece to be released were modified “in order to keep neighborhood harmony.” Fowler wrote in a memo that the town could discharge its interest in the right-of-way according to a process in RSA 231-52.
At the June 18 meeting, Councilors voted to table the issue to July 9, and directed the concerned parties to come up with their own solution. They did, Anderson and Fowler said.
But Councilor Al Dimmock objected, asking what would be done with the remaining 60 feet.
Anderson said, “It will be retained as a paper street. In the future, the town could develop it.”
Dimmock contested the 180 feet, saying that Robichaud had originally applied for 240 feet, and Dimmock didn’t understand why it had been reduced. “What’s the advantage to the town?” Dimmock asked.
Anderson responded, “If we have 240 feet, we have one happy resident and one unhappy resident. If we have 180 feet, it’s a compromise and everybody wins.” Dimmock, who has visited the property, contended, “If we release the entire portion, someone will pay taxes on it. And Mr. Robichaud will have a better opportunity to build his garage.”
Dimmock said the usual practice was to release an entire road from public servitude. But Fowler said according to regulations, the Council could release any portion it chose.
Dimmock was also critical of the effort to please all parties, noting, “We can’t just say, ‘Somebody doesn’t like this.’”
Chairman Michael Fairbanks reminded the Council of the June 18 meeting, and the directive to find a solution that was “palatable” to all parties. “Do all the parties agree on this?” Councilor Tom Cardon asked Fowler. Fowler hesitated a moment before saying, “It is palatable.”
Councilor Mark Osborne also visited the property and said the abutters and neighbors were cordial to him. “It’s not a Hatfield and McCoy situation,” he said.
Osborne agreed with Dimmock’s concerns. “It doesn’t make sense for me for the town to keep a little bit of property that won’t be used,” he said, adding, “Sometimes you have to be King Solomon and split the baby. Sometimes not.”
Osborne proposed an amendment to the motion, returning the release to the original dimensions. But Councilor Neil Wetherbee said, “I can’t support that. If you’re going to adjust something, adjust it in advance.”
Osborne withdrew his motion, and the Council agreed 6-1 to table the issue until Fowler could come up with a better picture of what the changes would be. Dimmock’s was the dissenting vote.