Jul 26, 2014
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Chatham Township Vacates Controversial Easement

Couple who led campaign against the ordinance claim 'crucial' minutes of a 1956 Planning Board meeting were withheld until after the public hearing.

Chatham Township Vacates Controversial Easement
A Chatham Township couple who led a campaign to stop the municipality from vacating a controversial easement between Linden Lane and Pine Street claim "crucial" minutes of a 1956 Planning Board meeting were withheld until the day after the public hearing.

The Chatham Township Committee voted 3-1 Thursday night to vacate the 700-foot long and 8-foot wide footpath, according to the Chatham Courier.

Committee Member Robert Gallop, Mayor Kevin Sullivan and Deputy Mayor Curt Ritter voted in favor of the measure and Committee Member Kathy Abbott cast the lone dissenting vote.

Committee Member Baily Brower Jr., a Linden Lane resident and homeowners association member, recused himself on the issue.

Carl Woodward, the retired township attorney asked to provide advice on the issue due to current attorney Albert Cruz's potential conflict of interest, told the governing body they had the "legal right" to take action, the Courier reported.

The Township Committee delayed voting on the issue following the public hearing earlier this month so Woodward could do more research. The April 10 public hearing was the last opportunity for the community to speak out on the issue.

Lawrence and Sarah Fechtner, who collected more than 100 signatures on a petition against the ordinance, were frustrated to not get the chance to respond to Woodward's findings before the governing body took a final vote on Thursday.

"It was disappointing that neither we nor our attorney could speak during this meeting in response to Mr Woodward," the Fechtners said in a statement.

"We were planning to make it known to the public that the February 20, 1956 minutes from the Chatham Township Planning Board requested by OPRA request were held back from us until Friday morning, April 11. That was the morning after the public hearing were closed. This prevented us from publicly presenting these crucial withheld minutes."

According to the Fechtners, the minutes reveal "Mr. Bailey Brower, Jr. had given his assurance that the owners of the property would cooperate with respect to giving of easements for use of schoolchildren to cross from Linden Lane to Pine Street."

The Safe Routes to School Committee had proposed last year re-opening the easement for students in the neighborhood to more easily walk to the middle and high schools as well as Cougar Field on Shunpike Road.

However, many Linden Lane residents, citing safety concerns, opposed allowing the easement to be used as a public walkway.

"Our attorney strenuously disagrees with Mr. Woodward that a footpath is a 'public place,'" the Fechtners said. "It only makes sense in the statute that a 'public place' must be similar to a 'public square,' usually a park or beach where the public can gather, not a footpath, or means of travel. 

"Also it is an easement deeded to the public not the township and does not require the township to dedicate or accept it to be in force. For example, a neighbor may have an easement to cross another neighbor's property without getting the township's approval."

The Fechtners thanked those who signed the petition and also the residents who pushed the Township Committee to allow the footpath to be open to the public.

"We also maintain the recused Mr Brower's participation in the public hearing as a strenuous advocate, not only for himself, but as a spokesman for the residents of Linden Lane, poisoned the proceeding, and violated the township's own rules on recusal," the statement said.

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