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Peters Twp. v. Russell

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

July 30, 2015

Peters Township, Washington County, a Pennsylvania municipality
v.
Jordan Russell, Gary A. Meyer and Rita A. Meyer, husband and wife, Gunther J. Kaier and Virginia C. Kaier, husband and wife, Doran B. Mauldin and Olga Mauldin, husband and wife, Ray D. Moffitt and Martha M. Moffitt, husband and wife, Appellants

Argued April 14, 2015

Appealed from No. 2014-300. Common Pleas Court of the County of Washington. Costanzo, J.

Emmanuel S. Anthou, Canonsburg, for appellants.

John M. Smith, Canonsburg, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉ E COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge.

OPINION

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, J.

Jordan Russell, Gary A. Meyer, Rita A. Meyer, Gunther J. Kaier, Virginia C. Kaier, Doran B. Mauldin, Olga Mauldin, Ray D. Moffitt, and Martha M. Moffitt (Landowners) appeal an order of the Washington County Court of Common Pleas (trial court), which granted injunctive relief to Peters Township (Township). Specifically, the trial court ordered Landowners to remove a gate they had installed across a private road and permanently enjoined them from replacing it, or placing another obstruction across the private road without leave of court. We affirm on different grounds.[1]

Page 1148

The following facts are not in dispute, according to the pleadings. In 1951, a subdivision plan was approved for a residential development in the Township. The plan identified several roadways within the subdivision, including Mt. Blaine Drive, which is bisected by Nevin Drive at a Y-intersection. The subdivision plan did not include any gates. Landowners live on property adjacent to " Lower" Mt. Blaine Drive,[2] which is located south of Nevin Drive. Lower Mt. Blaine Drive is a gravel road and maintained by Landowners, not the Township. Some of the roadways in the subdivision have become Township roads, but Lower Mt. Blaine Drive remains a private road.

In October 2013, Landowners installed a gate with a chain and padlock at the end of Lower Mt. Blaine Drive next to Nevin Drive. In their answer to the Township's complaint, Landowners explained that the padlock was for show because they did not, in fact, lock the gate. The gate was installed only for purposes of limiting, not eliminating, traffic entering Lower Mt. Blaine Drive from Upper Mt. Blaine Drive and Nevin Drive.

On October 29, 2013, the Township sent a letter to Landowners identifying several public safety concerns with the gate. Specifically, the Township's Chief of Police and Fire Chief believed the gate would impede their ability to respond to emergencies.

When Landowners did not remove the gate, the Township filed a complaint seeking a permanent and preliminary injunction on two grounds. First, the Township asserted that the gate violated the Township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO)[3] in several respects. Complaint, ¶ ¶ 49-51. Second, the Township claimed that Landowners violated the law commonly known as the Private Road Act,[4] which requires court approval before a swinging gate can be installed on a private road. Complaint, ¶ ¶ 64-72.

In their answer, the Landowners presented numerous factual allegations in response to the Township's request for injunctive relief.[5] Landowners stated that " someone" caused " a large boulder to be placed at the end of Julrich [Drive] where there originally was constructed an asphalt Cul-de-sac or turnaround" at the intersection with Upper Mt. Blaine Drive. Answer, ¶ 18; Reproduced Record at 218a (R.R. ). Thereafter, the boulder was removed, and the Township paved Upper Mt. Blaine Drive, which resulted in an " exponential, significant and substantial increase in" traffic along Lower Mt. Blaine Drive. Id. Landowners alleged that an unnamed individual has created numerous disturbances by driving down Lower Mt. Blaine Drive in a " wild and reckless manner while making extremely rude and vulgar comments and hand gestures to [the Landowners]." Answer, ΒΆ 32; ...


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