June 21, 2014 at 11:55 AM
CHATHAM, NJ - Lawrence and Sarah Fechtner have filed an appeal, challenging the Chatham Township Committee's 3-1 vote in April to adopt an ordinance that vacated a "Walkway Easement" on Linden Lane.
The appeal was made in Morris County Superior Court. No court date has been set.
"On Wednesday, June 18, we officially filed an appeal to Chatham Township over the easement vacation ordinance," Lawrence Fechtner said. "We filed an appeal of Chatham Township Ordinance 2014:08, which vacates the public walkway easement from Linden Lane to Pine Street. This easement is for the right of public for use for foot travel as stated in the official deeds of record. The private property is “subject to the easement for public use, for foot passage only.” With this ordinance, the Township is giving a walkway easement designated for the benefit of the public away to private property owners forever.
This easement is a valuable public asset which would serve as a vitally needed connection to our local schools and athletic field as well as enhance the enjoyment of our beautiful town."
Before the vote to vacate, Carl Woodward, retired township attorney, said it was legal and the Chatham Township Committee followed with a 3-1 vote, adopting an ordinance that vacated a walkway easement.
Woodward concluded that since the township did not "accept" the dedication of the walkway plan by taking action to develop it, there was no legal requirement to keep it. The walkway had been shown on the tax map since 1956.
Carl Woodward advised the committee that it was legal to vacate the walkway easement in video below
After hearing Woodward's legal interpretation, Sarah Fechtner, who opposed the ordinance, asked that her attorney be allowed to answer Woodward's assessment. Mayor Kevin Sullivan denied the request, saying the public comment portion on the ordinance had been closed at the previous meeting.
"This is not a court of law," Sullivan said afterward.
Following the vote in April, Lawrence Fechtner said he was "disappointed" that his lawyer was not allowed to speak before the vote was taken. Ms. Fechtner revealed she had a petition with 100 signatures opposing the vacation of the easement.
Committee member Kathy Abbott cast the lone dissenting vote on the ordinance, citing future considerations and environmental concerns.
"It would be possible for the path to be opened at little or no cost to the town by making it a wood chip trail," Abbott said. "It could be done with sensitivity to homeowners. A problem-solving approach, which would be a win/win situation."
Committee member Bailey Brower, Jr., had recused himself from the vote since he is a member of the Linden Lene Association.
Robert Gallop, Mayor Sullivan and Deputy Mayor Curt Ritter each voted in favor of the ordinance.
Gallop, who said he walked the area in question on Thursday morning, called it a "51-49" decision. Ritter said that it would cost at least $50,000 to develop the walkway and that trees would have to be removed to accomplish such a project. Sullivan reiterated his assertion that there is "nothing there."