A gate debate: Dispute over Troy structure lands in court
By Sierra Hubbard Sentinel Staff 8/4/18
TROY — A couple has turned to the courts to resolve a dispute with the town over a gate that has twice been erected and twice removed on the road where they live.
Traci L. and Louis A. Piskolti filed a complaint in Cheshire County Superior Court in December, asking for a declaratory judgment and damages. A bench trial is tentatively scheduled for later this year.
Historic ups and downs
Traci said she and her husband, who live at 254 Mackey Road, wanted to install a gate across the road because all-terrain vehicles often sped past their home.
“It was horrible,” Traci said Friday. “… They were really making a ruckus. It was like living next to Monadnock Speedway.”
Mackey Road is a long, winding road northwest of downtown Troy that continues north into Swanzey.
In an effort to deter speeding motorists, the couple approached the town and inquired about installing a gate. The board of selectmen authorized Louis Piskolti to build the gate outside their home across the road in June 2015, according to court documents, which stipulate that it was a one-year allowance.
But that August, court documents show, selectmen received a petition asking the town to remove the gate. Selectmen referred the matter to the police department because a petitioner had made harassment allegations, according to the documents, which don’t elaborate on the claims.
A Troy police officer and the town’s road agent inspected the gate on March 12, 2016, according to the Piskoltis’ complaint, and suggested replacing the connector on the gate to allow easier access for the public. The Piskoltis assert in their complaint that they complied with the recommendation that day.
In its response to the Piskoltis’ complaint, the town argued the gate wasn’t easily accessible and that the couple “engaged in actions to deny the public free passage through the gate.”
On March 21, 2016, the plaintiffs allege in court documents, the town revoked their permission to operate the gate. Town employees and a Troy police officer removed it about a week later, according to the Piskoltis’ complaint.
Selectmen Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd said the town replaced the gate in April of this year at the advice of legal counsel, although Thackston said he didn’t know the reason this was advised.
But in mid-June, Traci Piskolti said, her brother-in-law, James “Jim” MacPherson, led about a dozen residents to the gate and tore it down. MacPherson and his wife, Sandra, own land on the other side of Mackey Road. Sandra also co-owns separate property on that side with Traci.
James MacPherson told The Sentinel he used his tractor to pull the gate’s posts out of the ground to avoid damaging it and left the bars on the side of the road. He maintains the gate is illegal, and thus the group removed it.
“It clearly states you cannot interfere with public use (of the road),” he said, of state law, “and that’s all that gate was doing.”
While he acknowledged the gate was never locked, MacPherson said it was still an inconvenience to the public. He pointed out that anyone on horseback had to dismount and open it, which could “spook” the horse.
He said he isn’t concerned about any fallout from removing the gate.
“What are they going to charge us with, taking down an illegal gate on a public road?” MacPherson asked.
Thackston said a police report was filed regarding the gate’s removal, and the matter has been referred to the Cheshire County Attorney’s Office. County Attorney D. Chris McLaughlin was not immediately reachable for comment on the matter Friday afternoon.
“This gets the prize for weird but true stuff that happens, since I came to the selectboard,” said Thackston, who was elected in March.
Classifying Mackey Road
In their complaint, the Piskoltis make a few requests. Their primary goal, as laid out in the court documents, is for a judge to declare that the portion of Mackey Road abutting their home is their property, and not a public road.
The plaintiffs assert that, in 1957, residents voted at town meeting to discontinue that portion of Mackey Road. At that time, the former owners of the Piskoltis’ property “succeeded in ownership of the land where the highway was located,” the Piskoltis assert in court documents.
The Piskoltis own that land and, consequently, that portion of the road, their complaint states. Therefore, the plaintiffs argue, that section of Mackey Road is not a public highway.
If the judge disagrees with that logic, the Piskoltis ask the judge to declare that portion of Mackey Road a Class 6 public road. Private landowners can install and maintain gates on Class 6 roads, according to state law, as long as they don’t interfere with public access and can be “opened and reclosed by highway users.”
State law also stipulates selectmen may regulate gates to ensure public access and have the authority to remove gates if deemed necessary.
If the judge doesn’t go for that option, either, the plaintiffs request an assessment of damages to be paid by the town, including any decrease in property value from the gate’s removal. The Piskoltis also ask, in their complaint, for other damages, including legal fees.
In its response, the town asserts that the Piskoltis’ gate was not easily opened. It also claims that the portion of Mackey Road in front of the Piskoltis’ home is a Class 5 road, citing an application to Troy’s planning board in 1980. Class 5 roads, or town roads, must be maintained by the town and is not subject to gates or bars, according to state law.
Lastly, the town argues in its response that the plaintiffs do not own property on both sides of Mackey Road and therefore aren’t permitted to construct a gate across it.
Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @SierraHubbardKS.