Town Discusses Gate Over Private Road

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Kevin Murphy

TOWN OF MIDDLETON – Did a private landowner put a gate across a town road? That was a question the Town Board fenced with Monday night.

Capitol Court is a short road extending north from US 14, dividing the town and city of Middleton. It also extends between the PKK Lighting and Batteries America properties, continuing about 200 feet to the property of DRS Ltd., an asphalt paving firm, that apparently installed the road-blocking gate.

The gate has been there as long as Town Engineer Rod Zubella remembers but hasn’t been previously looked into, he said.

DRS has run heavy trucks over the road and without town approval, repaved it south of the gate in 2019. It then sought reimbursement from an adjoining property owner, which brought the matter to the town’s attention.

Capitol Court was dedicated to the town in 1979 and sometime later, the gate was installed. Town Attorney Eileen Brownlee stated there may be an informal agreement in which the town allowed the property owner to use the right of way for its use in exchange for maintaining it.

DRS believes the right of way north of the gate was vacated by the town, but there is no record of it, said Brownlee.

The town’s position should be that it didn’t vacate the right of the way and can order the gate removed or remove it itself, she said.

Despite DRS’ gating the northern part of the road, the law prevents municipal property from being privately acquired by adverse possession, Brownlee said.

Although Capitol Court’s pavement seems to end inside the DRS property, the town retains an easement to the north end of the DRS property line for a future extension of the road.

Zubella said the town can vacate the road or retain ownership and the responsibility to maintain it. 

But vacating the road would also landlock a separately owned lot, otherwise surrounded by DRS property, and county and town ordinances prohibit that, Brownlee said.

Town Chair Cynthia Richson said the town should keep the road in order to protect its border with the city. 

The board unanimously agreed to have Brownlee send DRS a letter asking about its ownership claim to the road. 

Board member Tom Stemrich didn’t want the town to pursue the matter in court for a portion of the road that the public doesn’t use.

Board member Richard Oberle said the fire district needs access to the properties and the public has a right to use a public road. If it remains gated, “the public could come after us for that,” he said.

“I’d like to get information from the landowner and then come to a conclusion,” Oberle said.

In a phone interview Tuesday morning, DRS’s owner, David Strassman, said he had an informal agreement with then Town Administration David Shaw about controlling access to the DRS site.

“There was a lot of drug and junk activity. People drop their junk, have drug parties, sex and whatever. We found needles and stuff strewed around. The town had to pick up the junk.

“I told Shaw that I agreed to gate it off and I’ll maintain the road and plow and you can forget about it,” Strassman said.

The agreement wasn’t written down, but DRS continued to maintain Capitol Court and when it was repaved in 2020 it was to town standards, Strassman said.

The gate is usually shut from 7 p.m.-5:30 a.m. weekdays and for most of Saturdays and all Sundays, he said.

Since installing the gate, the theft, vandalism and junk has stopped, he added.

Strassman offered to buy the road if the town wants to sell it.

He denied ever asking anyone to reimburse him for repaving the road last year. 

David Wagner, the chair of the town’s Public Works Committee, is the only person from the town that Strassman said he has recently talked to and wished the town would have contacted him before meeting about the gate.

“If someone with a little common sense would have contacted me, we could have straighten this all out. All I’ve ever done has been a good neighbor to everyone,” he said.

The Covid Relief Act could yield $620,000 for town water and sewer infrastructure projects, according an announcement from US Rep. Mark Pocan relayed by Town Treasurer Megan Hughes.

Hughes noted that the town doesn’t have a municipal water or a sanitary sewer system but Town Engineer Rod Zubella said the federal money comes with “few strings attached.”

Pocan is expected to provide more details this week about how municipalities can spend the federal money.

The board also awarded two road construction bids to Olson Toon Landscaping, which was called a newcomer to the road construction business. The awards were:

• $219,023 for pavement, shouldering and recontouring Bronner Road between Ellington Way and Stonebrook Circle.

• $374,379 to repave Goth Road, Leta Way, Lewis Street, Lockwood Lane, Moraine Ridge, and Windsong Circle.

The bids came in far below budget which Zubella attributed to a “favorably bidding climate,” buoyed by firms “hungry” for work and Olson Toon’s new interest in road work.

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