2011-08-11 / Front Page

Sheridan Drive ruling raises ire of some Woodlawn residents

A July 27 ruling on the fate of Sheridan Drive in Woodlawn Subdivision by Judge Michael J. Baumgartner in 34th Circuit Court, Roscommon, has some Gerrish Township residents seeking the help of the township board to appeal the decision.

Baumgartner signed an order for summary disposition calling for the “untraveled portion of Sheridan Drive (described as that portion of platted Sheridan

Drive beyond the eight foot traveled portion previously agreed by plaintiff, Sheridan Drive Association, Inc., and the Roscommon County Road Commission) is vacated in the plat of Woodlawn, Roscommon County.”

The order states that the vacation of the untraveled portion does not include the “vacation of perpendicular roads or road ends leading to the waters edge of Higgins Lake.” The plaintiffs have 180 days to prepare an amended judgment in the matter.

Addressing the Gerrish Township board at its regular meeting Tuesday, township resident Paul Scheibner read a prepared statement, saying the township’s opposition to the lawsuit asking for the vacating of all but eight feet of Sheridan Drive and giving it to members of the adjacent drive association was a “gross injustice” to the off-lake property owners in the subdivision.

He said the move was a “violation of the public trust” and that it devalues the properties of backlotters and increases that of the lakefront owners’. “Untrav- eled,” he said, does not mean unused or unappreciated, adding the drive gives hikers, bikers and walkers “a place to be.”

“We seriously need it back,” he said. “This is a give-away and we’d like to know why.”

He beseeched the board to appeal the Circuit Court decision before the 21-day appeal period elapses Aug. 16 and asked them to justify their decision. He told board members that 67 Woodlawn residents have signed a petition supporting the request.

Richard Jaskowski, attorney for the Sheridan Drive Association, Inc., in a phone interview with the Resorter Wednesday, said Baumgartner’s ruling vacates anything other than the traveled portion of the road. He said previous court rulings at the Michigan Supreme Court and Court of Appeals levels allowed the public to use only the traveled portion of the road. The association and the Roscommon County Road Commission reached an agreement in 2006 (effective in 2007) that the width of the traveled portion was eight feet. The road is under the jurisdiction of the road commission, he said, but the association maintains it per its agreement.

Language in the plaintiff’s July 6 motion for summary disposition states that the action seeks the vacation of the untraveled portion of Sheridan Drive. The plaintiffs were asking the court for quiet title to the abandoned and untraveled portion of the drive and that the members of the Sheridan Drive Association, Inc., hold the property “in fee simple title absolute.”

In support of the motion, Jaskowski included a 1937 ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court affirming a Circuit Court ruling prohibiting the defendant (Roscommon County Road Commission) from clearing, grading or otherwise improving the shore road across from the lands of the plaintiffs (J.T.N. Hoyt, et al). In another supporting document, a 1969 Circuit Court ruling stated that the defendants, members of the Woodlawn Back Property Owners Association, were prohibited from trespassing upon the premises and riparian rights of the plaintiffs and could not place boats or lounge, picnic or swim in front of said property (the Court of Appeals reached the same opinion in 1970).

Jaskowski said the most recent court action does not in any way affect the public’s use of the eight foot width, adding that the road ends are accessible to the public according to rules set forth in previous Jacobs road-end cases.

“It’s a nice road,” he said, consisting mainly of gravel and sand. “It is a public road. Anybody can go down there.”

He noted that the plaintiffs have 180 days (six months) to amend the plat, which requires a survey be prepared and submitted to the state.

At the township meeting, Gerrish Township Supervisor Frank Homola read a statement saying the board voted July 12 to issue no opposition to the summary disposition after “considerations were given” and that it was in the “best interest of the total township population.”

He cited a similar case heard in Michigan Supreme Court that led him to believe the township would not win in this case and that the board would be saving the public’s tax dollars. He said the issue had been litigated since the 1930’s and it would be fruitless to spend township money on it.

The backlotters of Woodlawn could appeal on their own accord.

Trustee Gary Long added that board members spent time on their decision. In response to Scheibner’s claim that the board was influenced by “big money and political bullying,” he said he, for one, was not influenced.

Resident Bob Barber said it was a “commendable decision” not to waste tax money.

“Who just gets property,” part-time seasonal resident of the Woodlawn Subdivision Julie Booser asked the board, supporting Scheibner. “This is sort of a big deal giving people property.”

Jaskowski said a common misconception is that the township is getting rid of the drive.

“It’s not,” he said.

Backlotters may argue that they are losing the property between the road and the water’s edge, he said, but they already do not have any right to it, “They haven’t lost any rights.” he said.

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