Gerald A. McNelis, Jr., John P. Eppinger, Erie, for appellants.
John W. Beatty, Knox, Graham, Pearson, McLaughlin & Sennett, Inc., Erie, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ.
In 1974, appellee, Burns Manufacturing Company, attempted to exercise an option to purchase two lots of land currently leased by appellee from the owners, appellants Joseph and Alma Boehm. When appellants refused to convey the property, appellee instituted the instant equity action to compel specific performance. After a trial, the chancellor ordered appellants to convey a "free, clear and merchantable title," ruled that appellants had neither expressly nor impliedly reserved a right-of-way over the land, and concluded that under the terms of the option agreement, appellee was not required to pay interest charges which had accrued on money owed by appellants for the installation of certain sewer facilities on the lots in question. Appellants appealed. We conclude that appellants are entitled to retain a right-of-way over the easterly twenty feet of lots 275 and 276 and that the decree should be modified accordingly; as so modified, we will affirm.
(1) Appellants first contend that the chancellor erred in ruling that appellants are not entitled to retain a right-of-way over the lots which they have been ordered to convey. The reservation of such an easement, it is claimed, is both expressly set forth in the addendum clause of the lease granting the option, and implicit in light of the circumstances surrounding the transaction in question. An understanding of these contentions requires a brief review of the events which gave rise to this controversy.
In 1960 appellants purchased lot 285, a plot of land with a narrow forty foot southerly boundary on West 13th Street and one hundred-fifty-three foot westerly border on lots 275 and 276. (Lot 285 was bounded on the north and on the east by other properties not herein relevant). At the time of the purchase, a building thirty feet wide was situated on the southerly end of lot 285. Access to the northerly portion of the lot from West 13th Street could be gained only through a seven foot space which separated the western edge of this house and the border of lots 275 and 276.
Shortly after the purchase of lot 285, appellants began construction of a repair shop for automobile bodies on the northern portion of the lot. Because the seven foot passageway was not wide enough to allow necessary vehicles to reach the construction site, appellants, with the consent of the then owners, used the easterly twenty feet of lots 275 and 276 as an access route. In 1963, after the construction was completed, appellants purchased these two lots and paved the twenty foot access road. Two years later appellants agreed to lease the two lots to appellee, who drafted a lease containing an option to purchase the leased lots and a separate option to purchase lot 285. Appellants, however, concerned that the writing would not preserve their right to use the access road, refused to sign the lease agreement as drafted; they insisted, and the lessees agreed, that the following addendum be added prior to execution:
"17. The Lessors have the right to use the east one-half of Lot No. 276 for their exclusive parking purposes and the display of used cars. With the exceptions, however, of the easterly most twenty (20) feet which shall be left open ...