Mt. Riley Road (Google Maps)

The question of whether a right-of-way actually exists is causing big concerns for a Mt. Riley Road neighborhood in Haines. The access path has not been consistently documented by the borough and the issue is raising questions about municipal record keeping. People’s property value and ability to access their land are at stake.

“We’re being asked to vacate a portion of a right-of-way that doesn’t appear on any plat,” said planning commission chair Rob Goldberg. “It’s a phantom right-of-way until it’s proven to us that it exists.”

Greg Seymour and Ela Sokolowska went to the commission to try to have part of a right-of-way that is believed to run through their property vacated. They’ve owned their land off Mt. Riley Road. for several years. But the question of access came up recently. The right-of-way would extend to Beach Road. Here’s Seymour.

“I had heard that there was a 50 ft. right-of-way. But it wasn’t in any of my documentation when I purchased the property,” said Seymour.

Kaegan Gudmundson recently bought property in the area. To ensure his access to the land from Mt. Riley Rd., realtor Dave Long did some research and found Bureau of Land Management patents that were transferred to the borough. They say the area in question is ‘subject to a right-of-way’ not exceeding 50 ft. in width. Long said it’s common for this information to get lost.

“Surveyors leave information off of plats a lot,” said Long. “If the surveyor doesn’t have that patent or that deed in hand he won’t include it on the plat because he’s not proven that it exists. No one has ever produced these deeds before.”

Goldberg said he’s not satisfied with the language in the patents, and suggested getting an opinion from the borough attorney before moving forward with any decision.

“It’s subject to a right-of-way not exceeding 50 ft. in width,” said Goldberg. “It does not say that there exists a right-of-way that’s 50 ft. wide. This is a placeholder. This is a placeholder for further surveying that could create a right-of-way along this property. This does not say that there is a right-of-way, in my opinion.”

There is a lot at stake for landowners.

Seymour and Sokolowska say they oriented their house based on their plat, which does not show the right-of-way. Now, their planned location of a septic system is at stake, as well as future plans for the property.

“It’s a frustrating situation,” said Dustin Craney. He and his wife Katie also own property in the neighborhood. The Craney’s say they sought to access their land from the location in question, but were told there was no public access there. Craney says the right-of-way wasn’t shown on any plats when they bought their property. And it takes up about a sixth of their land.

“We feel like it definitely affects the value of our property,” said Craney. “I don’t think we would have offered what we offered for our property had we known about that right-of-way. We certainly wouldn’t have built an expensive driveway on the other side of our property had we known about that right-of-way.”

But other property owners in the neighborhood say they’ve known about the existence of a right-of-way for a long time and have made plans for the future based on that knowledge. Here’s Thomas Andriesen.

“I thought it was kind of public knowledge, especially when I looked at the 2006 assessor’s map that showed at least part of that right-of-way down through there,” said Andriesen. “It needs to be maintained simply because it’s the most direct route for utilities from Mt. Riley Rd. down to Beach Rd.”

The Andriesens say their property would be adversely affected if the right-of-way was vacated.

Richard and Carol Flegel also submitted a written comment to the planning commission, supporting maintaining the access.

The Flegels say the right-of-way has been used historically for several reasons, including access for selective logging and berry harvesting. And they say they plan to utilize the right-of-way in future plans to subdivide their property.

In a memo to the planning commission, borough manager Debra Schnabel recommends maintaining the access. She said the borough does not keep a comprehensive record of all rights-of-way in town. But, she said evidence including a 2006 assessor’s map and the BLM patents, provide a ‘high probability’ that the access exists. And, Schnabel said it’s in the borough’s best interest to develop a thoroughfare between Beach Road and Mt. Riley Road.

The commission is waiting for advice from the attorney before moving forward with a recommendation to the assembly. Either way, there will be some Haines residents who are negatively affected by the so-called ‘phantom right-of-way.’