Residents of forgotten Montville road feel abandoned
Montville - Back in February, when a blizzard dumped 36 inches of snow on the town, residents hunkered down in their homes and waited for the town to plow their roads. Things were different on Maynard Road in Oakdale, where eight families worked in shifts throughout the night to clear the street.
"That was horrible," recalled resident Lynda Jean, who shoveled the snow while her neighbors used snowblowers and four wheelers. "We were at wit's end … you just try to get one path done and (the snow was) right back."
The town's Department of Public Works was praised by local officials for quickly clearing the roads, but the families living on Maynard Road knew not to expect a plow to come through. Their road was abandoned, apparently by mistake, during a five-minute town meeting in 1996.
For more than a decade, Jean has been trying to get the town to admit - and correct - its mistake. And she hasn't gotten very far.
"It blows my mind that something so little has turned into something this big," said Jean, who lives at 8 Maynard Road - or maybe 1538 Bozrah Road, or 1538 Route 163, because she and her neighbors no longer are certain of their addresses.
The narrow, hilly road is near the intersection of Route 163 and Route 82 and is the only way to reach the neighborhood's eight mobile homes.
It's not just the plowing that concerns her - emergency services have trouble locating the road and even when they do, firetrucks and ambulances often can't manage the sharp turn off Route 163.
Once, a neighbor tried to plow with a tractor and toppled over a cliff, landing underneath his tractor. He sat in the snow for hours and emergency personnel had to wade through the snowy road to reach him. When Jean's truck caught fire, the fire department asked for directions. And when her landlord's home was broken into, police gave up trying to find the address and turned around.
Jean wonders what would happen if her mobile home, at the very end of the road, were to catch fire.
"How long is it going to take a firetruck to try to maneuver itself to get in here?" she asked. "And how bad is it going be if it's in the wintertime and it's not plowed? Am I going to lose my home because the town of Montville won't admit that there's a situation here?"
In 1995 when the owners of a small shopping center at the intersection of 163 and 82 filed a request with the town asking to abandon "a small portion" of Maynard Road that abutted the center, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the plan and recommended the abandonment to Town Council.
The council set up a public meeting to consider the issue and placed notices in The Day and The Norwich Bulletin, but they didn't notify the eight families living on the road. No one knocked on doors or put fliers in their mailboxes, said Jean.
The commission had recommended abandoning the southernmost 238 feet of the road, but when the motion was made at the town meeting it was to abandon the entire road. And in five minutes on Feb. 21, 1996, with no public comment, the motion passed unanimously.
Jean and her neighbors had no idea the abandonment was even under consideration until the next major snowstorm hit. That's when she did some digging in the town archives and began talking to local officials about the issue.
"For years, I've felt like it's been falling on deaf ears," said Jean, who now has folders filled with meticulous notes from her research. She'd explain her predicament to mayors and town councilors, and they'd say there was nothing they could do or deliver vague promises to look into it.
"I'm tired of hearing it," said Jean. "The other seven families who live here are tired of hearing it."
She talked to former Mayor Russ Beetham, Jr., who was on the council when the road was abandoned. Then she spoke with Mayor Joseph Jaskiewicz, who is now the Town Council chairman. She spoke with people in the public works department and various other roles, trying to find someone who could help, but the answer was always the same: "There's nothing we can do."
Even though she's been pursuing this for more than a decade, so far to no avail, Jean isn't bitter. She still votes, saying she's an independent voter who chooses the candidates who are good listeners and seem to care about Montville residents.
And she praised Jaskiewicz, saying did "everything in his power to try to help us." But, she said, he missed the critical piece of information: the Planning and Zoning minutes that recommended only a portion of the road for abandonment.
At the time, said Jaskiewicz, he spoke to planning and zoning officials and they told him the road had been abandoned and there was no going back.
"You have to rely on the information you get," he said.
Finally, though, Jean thinks she's getting somewhere. Town Councilor Chuck Longton has taken an interest in her situation and she's optimistic that he'll be able to find a solution.
"Basically, these people got screwed," said Longton, who believes the road was abandoned illegitimately. The town charter and state law say three things need to happen for a road to legally be abandoned, he said: Planning and Zoning approval, a vote by the Town Council in favor of abandonment and then another favorable vote in a town meeting.
In this case, he said, "the town council did not do their job." They didn't take a vote and the motion they sent to a town meeting was wrong.
Longton's eager to reinstate the road, but he said the town attorney is still reviewing the issue because there many legal questions.
Was the town meeting vote actually illegal? Does the town legally have to reinstate the road now if it was? Would the town have to widen the road to allow easier access for emergency vehicles and bring the road up to current standards?
There's also the question of whether the road Jean lives on was even a town road to begin with. It was a dirt road at the time it was abandoned, and Assistant Planner Tom Sanders said he believed it was just a private road off Route 163. It was being plowed, said Sanders, because it connected to the 238-foot stretch of road that connected to Route 82, creating a through road.
No one in Montville seems to have clear answers to these questions. Mayor Ronald McDaniel said there was a "disconnect in the process" and that the town is working toward solving the issue.
Jean's neighbor Ken Evans, the one who was trapped under his tractor for hours, isn't sure things will ever change. He said the town councilors "butt heads" and won't be able to work together to fix the problem.
Jean doesn't show any signs of ending the fight, though.
"It's not just for me. It's for all eight of us," said Jean.
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