Confusion over Mill Street-River Street Continues

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At the select board meeting on November 5, Hardwick town attorney Bill Davies attempted to clarify the legal status of East Hardwick’s River Street, also previously known as “Mill Street.” The East Hardwick Fire District allowed a resident to use property it owns on the street, and those present at the meeting said the resident assumed the street itself was the property of the fire district and parking on River Street was not allowed. While some maps recognized River or Mill Street, it was unclear whether the street is town-owned or a private drive.

At the previous meeting, East Hardwick resident Tracy Martin presented two deeds to the select board: one a 1929 deed to the Village of Hardwick which specifically states a right-of-way was included; and a 1969 deed to the fire district stating the right-of-way was not included. The two deeds seem to suggest that the village kept the right-of-way, and it was passed to Hardwick town when the two merged in 1988. The town provided Davies with the deeds, which he said he read. Martin said she had done additional research and spoken with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT).

Davies stated a right-of-way is not a highway and as such does not include parking rights. He also said that under ancient roads legislation, even if it were technically a road, the lack of a modern survey meant it was no longer legally recognized as a road. Martin pointed out that the legislation he was speaking of had restrictions for what types of roads could be decommissioned and this road could not be, as it intersected a main legal town road. She said the AOT also stated roads could be created by means other than a survey. In the case of this street, she said it seemed very likely that the mill built the road for access to its buildings and then dedicated it to the town. Davies said he had seen no evidence that this was the case.

Davies repeated that a right-of-way is different from a highway and launched a discussion about the town condemning the old post office for a public purpose as a way to create parking.

Martin said “I don’t have any skin in this, I’m just a taxpayer who wants to make sure that we have public resources [that aren’t] just given to one owner at the expense of other owners. Now we have this little neighborhood organization, and we’re trying to make [East Hardwick] economically viable. To make two properties not economically viable is not fair.”

Davies reiterated that a highway is not the same as a right-of-way. Martin then left the meeting.