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Robinson Hill Road Gives Access to Conservation Land For Public Use
by Penny Williams 8-30-16

In what ended up as a case of  “buyer beware,” the Raymond Board of Selectmen has directed residents Mary and Ken Winchell to work with the Raymond Conservation Commission on improvements to the Robinson Hill conservation area.

Attorney Laura Spector of the Mitchell Municipal Group joined the Raymond Board of Selectmen at its July 25, 2016 meeting to provide input on the issue. The Conservation Commission wants to construct a small parking area for the conservation land managed by Bear-Paw Regional Greenways, with access off the Robinson Hill driveway. The Winchells own one of two parcels that access their property off the driveway in question.

The homeowners by easement deed are responsible for maintenance of the Robinson Hill driveway access but the Winchells expressed concern primarily over the public's use of the driveway in a way that they said blocks access to their home.

Spector said the Town clearly has the right to build a parking lot on the town-owned conservation land accessed by the driveway. She emphasized that the proposed parking lot should be on the town-owned conservation land and that a spur would have to be built off the driveway to the parking lot, starting before the private end of the driveway leading to the abutters’ homes.

She also made it clear that the town has a responsibility to grade the driveway once a year, something it has not been doing. Raymond Public Works Director Steve Brewer said the town's grader is too big to work on the 10-foot-wide driveway, but it was pointed out that a 50-foot driveway easement exists.

The selectmen asked Brewer if he could use other equipment to do the once yearly grading and he agreed, after clarifying with Spector that working on the driveway, whose actual status as a class 6 road or a private driveway remains murky, would not alter that status.

Spector pointed out the easement documents make clear that the town is not responsible to plow the driveway, only to grade it once a year, and Brewer agreed to take care of that. He was asked if the Department of Public Works would be able to help with designated signage for delineating the conservation area and the proposed parking area, as well as where the start of the abutters’ private portion of the driveway begins. He said his department could order those signs.

Ken Winchell pushed for the use of the conservation area off Route 107 for the proposed parking lot but Selectwoman Colleen West-Coates said she had walked the area and it was prohibitively difficult. Spector also pointed out that conservation easement documents prohibit the use of that area for constructing the parking area. At the June Board of Selectmen meeting when the Winchells first raised their concerns, Selectman Jonathan Wood, who was a member of the Raymond Conservation Commission when the easement was enacted, said there is no appropriate frontage available on Deerfield Road and the access would be too steep.

Winchell wanted to know if the town had the right to build the parking lot without consulting the abutters, and Spector responded that as long as the parking lot is built on Town-owned conservation property, the Town did not have to consult the abutters. The Town has the right to limit the number of cars that would be allowed in the parking area

Spector also noted that as Bear-Paw Regional Greenways manages the land, it is open not just to Raymond residents but to the general public to visit and enjoy.

Selectman Jack Barnes asked the Winchells how long they had owned their property. They responded that they have owned it for six years. He then asked how long the conservation and driveway easements had been in place, and was told seven years.

Barnes asked the Winchells if they had known about the easements before they bought the property and they admitted they had seen them but said they had not fully understood the documents, and finding that anyone can come up their driveway to access the conservation land led to their upset

At that point West-Coates said the Board of Selectmen is not the appropriate purview for this issue. She pointed to the statement by Spector that the selectmen have no authority over the town-owned conservation area, but it is the responsibility of the Conservation Commission to manage it. She suggested the Winchells work with the Conservation Commission and Barnes agreed.

The Winchells had initially approached the Board of Selectmen at its June 20 meeting to express their concerns, and the selectmen agreed to form a committee and consult with an attorney.

The Winchell Family Revocable Trust, co-owned by Kenneth and Mary Winchell, trustees, purchased the 63 Deerfield Road property in May 2010 from Walter Eric Swanbon, one of two property owners who originally granted the conservation easement.

That easement includes the responsibility of the Winchells to maintain the driveway in question, a 10-foot gravel drive, as a public access to the conservation area.

The original easement document showed a 50-foot easement access to the homes and the conservation area but only the 10-foot driveway exists, and the Winchells’ concerns are that people accessing the conservation area park along the driveway, making it impossible for safety equipment to use it if needed and obstructing the driveway for the homeowners.

Mary Winchell said a sign at the end of the driveway stated Robinson Hill Road, which she said would have referred to the 50-foot-wide easement access referred to in the easement that was never built. That sign has been removed, as has the “private” sign at the end of the driveway. The red street sign has been re-installed.

Although the Winchells suggested at the June meeting that the Town was not granted permission to gain access to the conservation area by using the private driveway, the driveway is granted to the homeowners by a non-exclusive clause of the easement that reads as follows: “The Owners of the Lots, together with their respective successors and assigns, are hereby acknowledged to have the non-exclusive right to own and utilize the 50-foot driveway easement and existing variable width gravel driveway as shown on the Plan (“the Driveway”) for access and utilities to their respective lots.”

The easement also notes that the property owners are to equally share the cost of snow plowing/removal, maintenance, repairs and reconstruction for the driveway, with the Town of Raymond solely responsible for the cost of an annual grading (but no snow plowing/removal or other expenses) for that portion of the driveway located within the area depicted on the Plan as “Robinson Hill Road.”

The easement also states it was granted “exclusively for the following conservation purposes for the public benefit: The enhancement and enlargement of over 5,800 acres of protected land that is nearby the Property, said other land including the Willoughby easement (23 acres), the Stillbach easement (383 acres), and Pawtuckaway State Park (5,410 acres); The protection of land within an 11,000-acre contiguous block of unfragmented lands; The conservation and protection of open spaces, particularly the conservation of the productive forestland of which the Property consists and of the wildlife habitat thereon and the long-term protection of the Property's capacity to produce economically valuable forestry products; The scenic enjoyment of the general public, including approximately 528 feet of undeveloped road frontage on Deerfield Road AKA New Hampshire Route 107; The preservation of the quality of groundwater and surface water resources on and under the Property; The preservation of the Property for the low-impact, non-commercial,  outdoor educational or recreational use of the general  public  for  such  activities  as  hiking,  wildlife observation, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling (subject to at least six inches of snow on the ground), fishing and hunting; and The above Purposes are consistent with the clearly delineated open space conservation goals and/or objectives as stated in the 2003 Master Plan of the Town of Raymond, which states: "Natural resources such as slope, soils, vegetation, wildlife and water resources add to Raymond's character, provide recreational opportunities and contribute to the quality of life for Raymond residents," and with New Hampshire RSA Chapter 79-A, which states: It is hereby declared to be in the public interest to encourage the preservation of open space, thus providing a healthful and attractive outdoor environment for work and recreation of the state's citizens, maintaining the character of the state's landscape, and conserving the land, water, forest, agricultural and wildlife resources."

The 2008 Warrant article 27 was a citizen’s petition submitted by a group of citizens and town board members who collaborated on the wording, asking to purchase and place the 56 acres into a conservation easement.

Warrant Article 27 reads: Shall the Town of Raymond vote to direct the Board of Selectment to support the Conservation Commissions inititiative and to purchase 56 acres of land subdivided from Map 44 Lots 26 & 29, for the appraised purchase price of $225,000.00 plus closing expenses, with existing money from the Conservation Fund, per RSA 36 and placing this land in a permanent conservation easement.

Acquisition of this parcel of conservation land is consistent with the results of the 2003 and 2007 Town Surveys and will perserve for the town additional accessible open green space for outdoor recreation activities; protect natural resources and wildlife habitats within the forests and wetland while at the same time providing Raymond residents with access to the surrounding upland scenic views. This is a petition warrant article.

The article passed 694 yes to 599 no.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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