Residents find flaws in proposed Wareham road bylaw

By Andrea Ray | Mar 13, 2017
Photo by: Andrea Ray Edward Pacewicz questions the terms of the proposed Unaccepted Way Bylaw Revision.

Residents of Wareham’s "unaccepted" roads are facing a choice: pay for the materials needed to repair their roads, or opt out of the town maintaining those roads at all.

The Town of Wareham Road Commissioners held a forum Monday night to get public input on a proposed Unaccepted Way bylaw revision, which would offer residents living on unaccepted roads the option of maintenance by Wareham’s Municipal Maintenance Department.

“Unaccepted” roads in this instance refer to roads which, for various reasons, are not yet eligible for acceptance by the town. Most unaccepted roads are open to the public with no obstructions, and look no different than accepted roads through the town.

Others, marked "private" are not eligible for town maintenance under the proposed bylaw. The private signage may be removed, but even after that, there is a 12-month moratorium before town maintenance will begin. Currently 531 roads in Wareham are unaccepted, of 977 total named streets. The hearing dealt mainly with the unaccepted roads open to the public, which are not currently maintained by the town.

The maintenance in question includes grading roads, tree trimming and snow plowing. The bylaw also proposes a "revolving fund" which will allow the director of Municipal Maintenance to draw funds for unaccepted road repair. The funds will be generated from billings to abutters of unaccepted roads.

Wareham Road Commission Chair Bill Heaney explained the proposed bylaw and asked for constructive criticism from those at the well-attended hearing. There had been rumbles of concern when Heaney told the audience that under the terms of the proposed bylaw, they would be responsible for any material costs incurred during repair. Any costs would be split evenly between the resident abutters of the road needing repair.

“Do we have the option of vetoing the cost if it’s too expensive?” asked Edward Pacewicz.

“Well, no, not under the terms set out here,” said Heaney.

“So the town can come in, say they need to do repairs, and charge me without my consent?” echoed Peter Barrows. “I pay taxes. Why do the people on the accepted roads not have to pay for materials and we do?”

Heaney told him those were the terms, but that if 51 percent of the street wanted to opt out of the bylaw, they were free to do so by submitting signatures to the Road Commission. “You don’t have to be a part of it, but the program is meant to repair roads, which is what the bylaw is created for,” said Heaney.

Wareham Town Moderator Claire Smith explained that 20 years ago the town did maintain unaccepted roads.

“At one point there was a lawsuit nearby, and the state clamped down, as the ruling is that you can’t use town money on unaccepted streets," she said. "If there was room in the town budget for maintenance of the unaccepted roads, it would be accepted, because the money would have been raised properly.”

Selectman Alan Slavin agreed.

“We did use Chapter 90 funds,” he said. “We were trying to do a good thing, but we weren’t supposed to do it. We got caught.”

Several attendees questioned how, if their street chose to opt out of the program, emergency services would get down the unplowed roads.

“If you choose to opt out, I think it’s a good idea to have a plan for how the roads will be plowed,” said Police Chief Kevin Walsh. “But that’s an emergency, we aren’t going to pass by because the roads are unplowed. We call a town snow plow and follow them in.”

Suggestions abounded for modifying the bylaw, most concerning resident approval of costs. Pacewicz offered the idea of a maximum cost, of which anything higher would need to be approved by the resident abutters of the road.

The question of why the unaccepted roads weren’t simply accepted was raised. Heaney explained that the roads, as of a law passed recently, required very stringent qualifications, and it would take a lot of time and expense to bring all of the roads up to par.

The bylaw is up for public vote at Wareham’s Town Meeting on April 24.

 

Comments (20)
Posted by: Spherebreaker | Mar 14, 2017 07:38

If 51% of abutters say yes, do the job and put tax lien on those that don't pay. If 51% say no then they maintain and plow their own road. Where is the issue?  There is none, its a private road, now deal with it like everyone else on a private road.



Posted by: Wareham By The Sea | Mar 14, 2017 14:49

An attempt is made to describe what an unaccepted road is every time this topic makes the paper.  There is still confusion regarding accepted vs. unaccepted vs. private.  Who can throw out a few street names of each that will help?

 

531 unaccepted / 977 total = 54% unaccepted.  More than half of our roads are unaccepted.  That's unacceptable (no pun intended).  How can it be that high?

 

Here it states "Most unaccepted roads are open to the public with no obstructions, and look no different than accepted roads through the town." Is a realtor supposed to disclose that to a person before they buy a home?  How does the average person know that the possibility even exists to not be on an accepted road.  Most have never heard of such a thing.

 

It is hard to grasp that someone can pay $500,000 for a house on a paved road with telephone poles, streetlights, electricity, cable, water, sewer, gas, storm drains, and fire-hydrants and then have to swallow this technicality.       



Posted by: Keith Lefrancois | Mar 14, 2017 15:34

An example might be Lynn Road and Bachant Way off of Swifts beach Road. This was a new development as of 2004. These streets were made new, and when the idea of unaccepted roads not being plowed was first mentioned, we looked into ours. We are an HOA development. Well, we found out that we had "unaccepted" roads, even though they looked great and were fairly new. We had to pay to have them evaluated by an engineer to see what it would take to make them accepted, and approved by the town. We did, and made repairs to the streets, at a shared cost to all in the development. This went back and forth a few times with the town though, as they seemed to always find something. In the end, they are not accepted, but had to be "repaired" at a shared cost of those living on the streets.

 



Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Mar 14, 2017 16:10

Lynne Road and Bachant Way were both accepted by the Town at the 2015 Spring Town Meeting.



Posted by: Wareham By The Sea | Mar 14, 2017 16:32

Thanks Keith for the examples and thanks Peter for the info.  It is good that they were accepted after 11 years.  Those are perfect examples of what I was getting at.  It's hard to believe that streets in neighborhoods like those were ever unaccepted.  One thinks unaccepted applies to dirt roads in cottage neighborhoods or dirt roads in the woods.

 

Question:  Do other towns have this problem?



Posted by: WantToSeeChange | Mar 14, 2017 18:10

54% unaccepted roads in the town?  This is ridiculous.  How did the number get that big in the first place?  What are the criteria?

 



Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Mar 14, 2017 19:13

54% of the named streets may be private ways, but approximately 120 of the 200 miles of Wareham roads and streets are accepted public ways.  The list is here:

 

http://www.wareham.ma.us/sites/warehamma/files/uploads/accepted_streets_nov_2016.pdf

 

In order to create a public way, the Selectmen have to be petitioned by the owners along the roadway to ask Town Meeting for permission to "lay out the way."  There's a multi-step process involved, including a report on the condition of the roadway prepared by the Planning Board.  The process and application are somewhere on the Town website, but my power is out and searching for it on my phone isn't going so well.

 

There are several reasons why roadways might not be accepted public ways, ranging from the desire of the residents to retain full control of their roads, substandard construction of the roadways that would be too costly to bring up to snuff (a million dollars per mile gets expensive fast), an agreement between the developer and the Planning Board that a homeowner's association is responsible for the roads (this should be in the deed from the developer to the purchaser), the improper release by the Town of road construction bonds to developers before roadwork is complete (this unfortunately has happened in the past), Town Meeting shot the request to lay out the way down (there was a spell of nearly a decade I believe when no streets were accepted), and simply the lack of knowledge by residents that their road is a private way (yet another reason to hire your own attorney when purchasing real estate!).

 

 

 

 



Posted by: Wareham By The Sea | Mar 15, 2017 06:40

Thanks again Peter, you know this topic quite well.  There is a lot of potential for complication.

 

Not everybody may want their road repaired if they personally have no issue with the problem.  For example, I was proactive and purchased a 4 wheel drive truck because my unaccepted road isn't the best.  I don't mind it at all.  If I owned the road myself I wouldn't fix it.  Why should I be forced to split the bill because somebody else chooses to fix it?

 

Same with plowing.  Why would a seasonal resident that owns a cottage that's shut down in the winter pay for plowing?



Posted by: barnstorm | Mar 15, 2017 07:32

WBTS is spot on with posts on this issue. It appears that the builders and realtors who built and sold these 531 homes did not make an effort to inform the buyers of this town issue and bylaw. Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse and the buyer must beware. Lot of blame to go around for this complicated mess.



Posted by: cranky pants | Mar 15, 2017 07:35

Tax the sale of recreational marijuana and watch the town revenue spring ten fold... Plenty of money for road repairs.

Then again they would be installing bump-outs and cobble stone sidewalks all over the place.



Posted by: Richard Swenson | Mar 15, 2017 08:31

for your reading pleasure...

 

WINTER MAINTENANCE POLICY

http://www.wareham.ma.us/sites/warehamma/files/pages/winter_maintenance_policy_0.pdf

 

Winter Maintenance Policy on Private Roads

http://www.wareham.ma.us/sites/warehamma/files/pages/legal_notice.pdf

 

Winter maintenance of private, non-accepted roads - Annual time frame for implementation

http://www.wareham.ma.us/sites/warehamma/files/pages/time_frame_private_road_implementation_0.pdf

 

Private road winter maintenance petition form

http://www.wareham.ma.us/sites/warehamma/files/pages/private_road_winter_maintenance_petition_0.pdf



Posted by: WWareham resident | Mar 15, 2017 11:02

As I look through the list of "accepted" roads in town I am at a loss to find my street on this list. There are 13 homes on this cul-du-sac and the last one occupied, by my wife and myself in 2005, has been plowed by the town for the past 11 years. I have never seen a police officer on this side of town, let alone on our street, unless they were called in and with the plows coming down when we do have snow leads me to believe Griffin Way should be on the list of accepted roads but is not. Could it be Cornerstone Properties, who owned the property and sold off lots to multiple builders, did some kind of deal with the town like mentioned in the article but was not disclosed to the homeowners?

It worries me that we are not on the list and correct me if I am wrong but does this now mean that moving forward the homeowners will have to pay a 3rd party to plow our street or one of the neighbors with a plow on their truck would have to take over maintaining the plowing but if something more drastic were to happen like a sink hole or anything quite frankly, do we now have to pay out of pocket for repairs?

Everyone who lives on a road not listed on the PDF should go to the meeting and make our voices heard, I will be there as will as few of our neighbors because if we are considered a private road that is news to me and we've been here 11 years.



Posted by: cranky pants | Mar 15, 2017 12:40

I see my road is on the dreaded list...

Does that mean I can cable off my road and give my neighbors keys so we can make it private access only ?



Posted by: Andrea Ray | Mar 15, 2017 13:23

WWareham Resident,

I didn't include this information as it was not part of the discussion Monday night. However, according to the bylaw draft, certain town roads remain 'unaccepted' yet are maintained by the town due to individual agreements with the Town Planning and Zoning Boards. These agreements supersede the proposed bylaw. It may be that your road has an individual provision for maintenance in place.

The text of the proposed bylaw is listed on the town's website, here.

 



Posted by: WWareham resident | Mar 15, 2017 16:18

Andrea, thank you for that clarification. The list that is on that PDF are PUBLIC and town maintained, correct? I ask because I see Cranky Pants comment that their road is on the list and they ask if they can cable it off for private access only so I just want to be sure what I am reading.

 

Thank you again



Posted by: Andrea Ray | Mar 15, 2017 16:56

WWareham Resident,

The accepted roads on the PDF are all town-maintained roads and accessible to the public. Any roads specifically marked as private, or which have some type of obstruction such as a gate are, from what I understand, considered unaccepted. They would fall under this bylaw, with the added provision that the private designation or obstruction would need to be removed for one year before town maintenance could begin.



Posted by: Peter W. Teitelbaum | Mar 15, 2017 20:53

Actually, any roads not on the list are private ways, regardless of whether they are so marked.  Many non-accepted roads in Wareham are open to public use and have normal-looking street signs, and without the list you wouldn't actually be able to distinguish them from public ways.



Posted by: Cindy | Mar 16, 2017 07:03

In response to Wareham by the Sea:  In Bourne, the unaccepted town roads are subject to a physical review each summer/fall by the town's facilities manager, the dpw director and the police chief.  They notify those residents of those streets if the street has repair issues and they are given the option, at their own cost,  to bring the streets up to 'plowable' status (dpw tells you what needs to get done in order for plow to come by).  At the appointed date in the season, if it is not done, the town makes the assumption you, as a street, are not interested in getting plowed and passes you by.  That being said, as Chief Walsh indicated, if there is an emergency call on your street, the police are going to follow the plow in at the time of call.  Hope this sheds some light on how another town does it.



Posted by: greycat | Mar 16, 2017 21:50

something doesn't smell right.  Everyone in town pays taxes, a portion of which goes to street care of one nature or another.  Everyone who owns a car pays an excise tax on the vehicle, a portion of which probably goes to road maintenance.  Everyone who puts fuel into a vehicle pays a federal and state highway tax plus a state sales tax.  The highway use tax is supposed to help pay for road maintenance, not MBTA retirement funds.

Our governments, at all levels, are hot and heavy on PUBLIC SAFETY.  Ambulances, fire trucks and police cars must use the unimproved roads. It is not only snow removal but huge potholes, exposed tree roots, puddles, and soft sand that can impede the response of these vehicles.  A slow response is not good for a heart attack, an unwanted guest or a fire.

I don't think anyone actually expects the town to grade and pave all the unaccepted roads.  There is no money.  It's all in the BIG DIG.  However, I see no reason that the town could not run the grader up and down the roads, scrape some of the berms off the sides wherever it may be possible, compact them with a roller, and at least make them passable.  A few gallons of diesel fuel and a couple of truckloads of gravel cannot be beyond the capabilities of the town.

 



Posted by: Wareham By The Sea | Mar 17, 2017 10:47

Cindy,  thanks.  I always prefer not to reinvent the wheel.  That is why I asked how other towns handle this.  Maybe Wareham should adopt another town's policy and/or combine multiple towns' policies. Bourne's method seems good.  It still all comes down to the cost per residence and their willingness to pay.  Some may be 100% willing to pay.  Some may be 100% against.  Some may want the repairs but can't afford.  Some may be able to afford but do not want the repairs.

 

Having said that, the extra time it takes EMS to call a plow and then follow it in may be a matter of life and death.  Definitely a big consideration.  We all run that risk a little every time it snows, accepted road or not.  I've been snowed-in for several hours simply because the plow hasn't got to us yet.  In the case of an unplowed unaccepted road, the snow can build up after each snowfall over time and freeze, making plowing for EMS vehicle difficult & slow.

 

Many scenarios...not an easy fix.



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