CALCUTTA - Several members of the Moore Road Horse Association came out to Tuesday's trustees meeting to voice their opinions regarding an ongoing debate over a township right of way used by their members.
Representing property owners who oppose the association's use of the right of way was Bell School Road resident Dave McCoy whose driveway sits atop the right of way and is regularly used by horse riders.
Earlier this year, McCoy presented trustees with a petition signed by five surrounding landowners stating their opposition to the horse associations use of the right of way. One of those property owners, William Sheville, attended the trustees Feb. 25 meeting and stated that one horse rider in particular repeatedly rides through his hay fields and is disrespectful toward him. He also stated that all five property owners along the right of way would like it vacated and split up amongst the property owners.
Moore Road Horse Association President Chester Channels and Vice President Laura Bramel have explained to trustees at past meetings that their members use the roughly 30 foot wide township easement to get from Moore Road to Bell School Road to access Beaver Creek State Park. Township records show the right of way in question was deeded to the township in the late 30's, following a dispute between two farmers named Ware and Stauffer.
Records show that in the early 1900's Moore Road extended northwest, connecting to Ware Road. To settle a dispute between Ware and Stauffer over this former portion of Ware Road, the township agreed to vacate it in exchange for the deed to another portion of Ware's property. This portion, now the right of way in question, begins near the present-day end of Moore Road and runs west to Bell School Road. It has not been used as a regular road open to car traffic in recent memory, according to trustees.
Before both sides began pleading their cases at Tuesday's meeting, Trustee Chairman Robert Swickard told all parties the township would not be getting involved in what he called a "civil matter," beyond conducting the survey to pinpoint the location of the right of way.
"Back in January you (horse association members) asked us to do a survey so you would not stray off the property and we complied," said Swickard. "They (the county engineers office) are doing it and we have not got a report back. That is our only job in this whole thing. Then when there became opposition we got our lawyer involved - Andy Beech. He told us, quite frankly, we don't have a dog in this show. Our job is to draw the lines."
Members of the Moore Road Horse Association began making their case by telling trustees the right of way is crucial to their ability to safely access the park. They noted that McCoy had blocked the right of way with a piece of construction equipment since the controversy began.
Bramel provided trustees with letters from several horse association members, including herself, attesting to the usefulness of the right of way for riders. Association members noted they may also use the right of way to transport farm tractors and "service vehicles" to the park.
Horse Association member Charles Bramel said the right of way is "perfect" for equine therapy sessions he holds for the wounded warrior program, since it is flat, low-difficulty terrain easily navigated by novice riders. Laura Bramel's letter said training her horse at Beaver Creek State Park has helped her win AHA National 50 mile Endurance Ride in 2013 and train young riders.
"Safe access to Beaver Creek State Park is vital for me to train my horses as well as other riders I mentor," read her letter.
Charles Bramel then asked trustees to officially decide whether or not the right of way is road, thereby making McCoy's blocking of it illegal by Ohio law.
"We don't need to make a decision because that decision is what it is - it is a public right of way," said Swickard. "I'm not saying that, the deed and the map say that."
McCoy presented his side, saying that he did not want any riders on the right of way until the survey was completed. McCoy claims that he had received signed permission to build his driveway on top of the right of way in the 1990's. He noted property in question is deeded and is not a right of way nor was it ever dedicated as a road.
"Right now I want everybody to stay off of it until the survey is done," said McCoy. "I'm not interested in having it open to the public. I ask that the road not be ridden on during the freeze thaw. It creates massive ruts, which it has done."
Charles Bramel then asked trustees to command McCoy to move the piece of equipment blocking the right of way, saying it violated the law.
"That would be a police matter," said Swickard. "We're not law enforcement."
Township Police Chief Don Hyatt, who was at the meeting, was asked by trustees to give his opinion of the situation.
"Unless a police officer could definitively look at that parcel of land and see it is a right of way or a roadway they probably wouldn't take any action," said Hyatt. "Until this is legally set in stone through the county prosecutor's office and your survey, I wouldn't even move on it, from a law enforcement standpoint."
Bramel countered that McCoy placed the equipment on the right of way intentionally to force riders to trespass on the adjacent property. He said that whether or not McCoy moves the machinery the horse association's members still intend on using the right of way. Hyatt advised Bramel that it would not be violating the law to go out and around the equipment by briefly straying on to the adjacent property, because there is due cause to do so.
Trustees say the county engineer's office could begin surveying as early as next week depending on weather conditions.