Pulteney property owners file suit over abandoned road

Gwen Chamberlain The Chronicle-Express

The town of Pulteney and New York State Department of Transportation, among others, are being challenged by a local couple who say a portion of Gibson Road in the town has been abandoned illegally.

Property owners Peter and Mary Gamba have filed a lawsuit against the town, declaring that action taken Sept. 4, 2013 to declare a portion of Gibson Road abandoned has resulted in difficulty selling their undeveloped, hillside, wooded property.

According to legal documents on file in the Steuben County Clerk’s office, the DOT determined on June 10, 2013 that the road had been abandoned for many years. A 2005 map on file in the Steuben County Clerk’s office shows Gibson Road as “unimproved.”

The area in question is a .13 mile length of pathway that looks like it may have been a farm access lane that has not been used for an extended time. Supervisor Bill Weber says the area has not been maintained as a road by the town highway department since well before the Gambas purchased the property, and there has never been a previous request by anyone to maintain the area.

“We have available testimony from lifelong residents in the area going back to the 1930s that the contested portion of Gibson Road has never been anything more than a trail for vineyard access, and no vehicles, other than farm equipment, have ever been on the trail,” writes Weber in an email message.

Weber also says the cost to bring the trail up to town highway standards would be prohibitively expensive. “The location of the ‘road’ is not clear, and there would be costs of litigation for obtaining easements, engineering, and the actual excavations and fill requirements, along with two or more culverts,” adds Weber.

Gibson Road is a one lane dirt road off Gallagher Road, also known as Gibson Hill Road. The portion of the road that is not abandoned passes private properties and ends at a vineyard. Those properties are also accessible from West Lake Road or Gallagher Road.

The portion of the road that is abandoned passes through properties owned by at least two other individuals before terminating at the Gamba’s property. It does not appear to meet town requirements for a road. It is narrow with elevation changes and water running across it in a number of locations.

The Gamba’s property can also be accessed directly from West Lake Road, but they say that access, which is next to a gully, is dangerous.

The property is for sale, and there has been some interest from at least one potential buyer, but only if there is safe and legal access via Gibson Road, according to the lawsuit papers on file.

The legal documents state: “The continued status of Gibson Road as a highway is of utmost importance to petitioners’ access and value to their property. Gibson Road is the only safe means of year-round access to the property. The alternative access from West Lake Road can be dangerous, particularly during spring, winter and fall months, as it is steep and runs along a ravine.”

In their legal documents, the Gambas say they learned in 2013 that the town board was proposing to abandon Gibson Road in its entirety. The couple has referred questions to their attorney, Arthur L. James of Rochester, who declined to comment until after the case is resolved.

As they sought more information, they learned the town considered the .13 mile section of the road to already be abandoned.

The Gamba’s legal documents say that state highway law states, “highways that have not been opened and work, or traveled or used as a highway for a period of six years shall cease to be a highway.”

The papers also state, “No written description of abandonment as required by Highway Law 205 (1) is on file at the Pulteney Town Clerk’s office.” and, “Although (the Gambas) have requested it, the Town has not provided any evidence of abandonment.”

Pulteney Supervisor Bill Weber says some of the town records had been destroyed in a fire at the town hall in 1976, so any legal town documents about the road’s status were lost.

The Gamba’s complaint has been amended to also name Keuka Yacht Club, Michael Doyle, and other neighboring property owners.

The case will be heard by Judge Marianne Furfure in Steuben County Court.