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City error sparks ire of neighbors

July 24, 2012
Meg Alexander - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - Mistakes happen. This isn't just a cliche, it's an inevitability. But that doesn't necessarily make it any less aggravating to the wronged party, especially when the mistake is made by the government.

Several months back, Cory Meyer got permission from the city of Fairmont to put up a fence around the back of his property. The records city staff reviewed showed no reason not to allow Meyer to put up the fence, but the records didn't include information on a "prescriptive easement."

Prescriptive easements are problematic, in that they don't show up on title reports. They simply come about through continued public use of a person's private property over a period of time. When the city realized the location of Meyer's fence included an alley, the Fairmont resident was given a couple options: take the fence down and seek financial reimbursement from the city, or petition his neighbors and apply to vacate a portion of the alley. Meyer chose the latter.

On Monday, the City Council unanimously approved the request to vacate the prescriptive easement located across from property at 840 East Fourth St. Because of the location of Meyer's property, no other neighbors' rear access will be shut off, but the fence will prevent traffic from driving through the alley.

The council's decision was not supported by two of Meyer's neighbors. Lina Wiebe and Harriet Haglund both expressed their annoyance with the city's mistake and their concerns for how the vacated alley will impact them.

The way the alley was closed is "completely against city code and state statute," said Wiebe, questioning why the city allowed the fence to remain in place after Meyer put it up.

Two of the concerns the women have with vacating a portion of the alley is snow removal and the increased difficulty Haglund will have accessing her garage, because of its close proximity to the fence.

"Is there anything we can do to make this easier?" asked Councilman Andy Lucas. "... Can we as a city work with her? It's obvious we made a mistake."

The city intends to continue plowing the alley and maintaining it, just like any other alley in Fairmont, and staff agreed to work with Haglund to make some minor improvements that will improve the ease of access to her garage.

Haglund said the city has opened a new can of worms: "It seems like anybody can do anything in this town and get by with it."

City Attorney Elizabeth Bloomquist said this can of worms is not new. Each decision to vacate an alley is "fact specific," meaning no precedent can be set by a previous decision to vacate an alley because so many individual factors are weighed in with each case.

In other business, the council:

o Approved a request from the Fairmont Opera House to block off a portion of Downtown Plaza in front of the Opera House from 5:45 to 8:45 p.m. Aug. 24 for a fund-raiser.

o Approved improvement plans for Lair Road bridge and ordered advertisements for bids. The engineer's estimate for the project is $2.249 million.

o Approved plans for a Safe Routes to School improvement project and ordered advertisements for bids. The cost is estimated at $132,600.



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