11/09/08 — Mount Olive alley dispute continues

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Mount Olive alley dispute continues

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 9, 2008 9:27 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Former Mount Olive businessman Rick Kraft Thursday said the town did not notify him or his attorney about its plans for an easement condemnation of a narrow strip of his property adjacent to a building he owns on West James Street.

Commissioners, following a closed session held to obtain advice from town attorney Carroll Turner, Monday night voted to condemn a one-and-one-half foot strip of land on the west side of the alley that abuts Kraft's building. The condemnation was for an easement.

Kraft said he could not understand the decision in light of an action he has pending in Wayne County Superior Court concerning the alley.

Kraft said he did not attend the meeting because he did not know the issue was on the agenda.

The board's action is the latest volley in the dispute over the alley that has raged between the town and Kraft for more than four years.

Town Manager Charles Brown said the vote does not deprive Kraft of the property.

"Despite a court ruling that says the town has a perpetual easement to the alley, the property owner continues to look for ways to circumvent that ruling," Brown said. "It continues to cost the town and the taxpayers money."

The town's expenses exceed well over $100,000 including a recent $1,356 paid for another survey of the property.

"What this (vote) will do will simply establish that in fact the town does have an easement on the alley," Brown said. "It does not take the property. But it does give the town an easement right for the entire alley. It gives the public full easement to that alley. Right now he is trying to get a court order to re-establish the boundaries of the alley. It is kind of non-ending."

"I didn't know they were going to do that," Kraft said. "I do not know what it means, condemnation easement. I am going to find out what they are doing."

The dispute dates back about four years when Kraft, who lived in an upstairs apartment at the building, announced plans to enclose a portion of the alleyway to create a patio. Kraft added he was concerned about large trucks using the narrow alley. In some cases, the trucks struck his building, he said.

He also expressed concerns about public safety because of the limited visibility of trucks pulling out of the alley.

The town countered that the alley should remain open for fire protection reasons and to allow delivery trucks to access the businesses that have back doors opening into the alley.

Kraft claimed ownership of the property and said that even with the patio there would be enough room for people to walk through the alley or to use hand trucks to make deliveries.

The town objected, arguing that the alley that runs between James and John streets, and behind the old Center Theater and Carter Bank and Trust, had been a public alley for more than 100 years.

Kraft sued the town, and a judge ruled in the town's favor.

Kraft said the court had ruled the property was his, but that the town did have an easement.

However, he said about one foot of the 10-foot easement is actually under the old Center Theater building.

Kraft said it appears to him that Monday's action is an attempt by the town to recoup that lost foot.

"They have no basis to take it other than they just want it," he said.

Kraft said his current court filing basically asks that his property survey and one by the town be compared. It first went to the register of deeds or court of courts, but was handed over to the court because of its complexity, he said.

"All I am trying to do is to protect my property and the buffer," he said.

Kraft said that the Superior Court appearance was expected to be scheduled some time within the first quarter of next year.

Now, he said, the town has taken off on a different track.

At one point in the dispute Kraft placed large concrete poles close to the building, arguing that he still had ownership of that small strip of land. The poles, he said, were to keep vehicles from striking the building.

The town disagreed and removed them.

"I am spending money I don't have," he said. "I have spent $250,000. I am going into the hole. Why is the town spending that kind of money? Someone should ask them if that is justified for a 10-foot easement. I am going to fight as long as I have the credit."

He said that the town's argument the alley is needed for traffic does not stand up.

"I'd ask them to try to drive a big truck in it and try to turn left or right coming out to James Street," he said.

Kraft, who has moved to Calypso, has the building up for sale.

"Mount Olive has ruined what feelings we may have had for it," he said.