Gate blocks another once-public roadway leading to water
First a sturdy, green steel gate was installed. Then late in the summer of 2016, several concrete blocks were placed beside the gate, blocking access to what some local residents consider a communal right of way between County Road 18 and Sandbanks provincial park.
The formerly open right of way had been used by local residents and snowmobilers for access to Outlet Beach in Sandbanks park. When the gate was first installed, several residents contacted their local councillor, Jamie Forrester. In a telephone call with Forrester, he indicated he had investigated the residents’ concern, but found no basis that a right of way existed. Subsequently, a former owner of the property contacted The Times, providing documentation that such a right of way did indeed exist.
The former owner and her then-husband had purchased the land in 1989, intending to build a motel and a number of cottages on the property. With several items to be addressed, they sought an Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) approval for the project. The OMB rendered its decision, noting concerns over the historic communal right of way and writing, “Assurances were given by the County planner … that this right could not and would not be taken away.”
Due to a change in personal and economic circumstances, the motel project was abandoned and the property was sold in the 1990s to its current owners, Steve and Brenda Conley. A property survey at the time clearly delineated the right of way.
Reached by telephone, Brenda Conley asserted that there was no right of way on the couple’s property. “We did our due diligence,” she said. “We contacted the Registry Office and the Planning Department and there was no right of way.” The gates were installed upon the recommendation of the Prince Edward OPP to curb vandalism and property damage and to address liability issues. Mrs. Conley said that several buildings on the property were vandalized and that people would illegally camp on their land during the summer. Further, she said that people were observed removing truckloads of sand along this entry point into the park. She and her husband also worried that someone could be injured while on their property and then hold the couple liable.
There is evidence that a right of way existed at one time—an internal road is marked on the Historical Atlas of Hastings and Prince Edward, 1878. It seems to have been in frequent use by local residents and, more recently, vacation rental operators have used its presence as an inducement for their customers. The question remains when and by what process the right of way was rescinded, or indeed if it was ever rescinded.
Closing a road is a formal process requiring public meetings and due process. In a subsequent telephone conversation with Jamie Forrester, the Athol councillor said the County will now look into the matter.