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Rutted roads lead to lawsuit

March 16, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHANNONDALE, W.Va. - There are dirt roads in this rural, West Virginia subdivision where there are more potholes and ruts than passable roadway.

On Sunday, the Shannondale Road Association met with about 50 community leaders to push its plan to improve the roads through the courts.

Last week, the group filed a class action lawsuit against all of the property owners in Shannondale - themselves included.

"Sure I'm suing myself and I'm suing everybody else so we can get something done and get the apathetic attitude out of there and get it moving," said Robert Warren, president of the Shannondale Road Association.

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"We're not pushing for paved roads,'' he said. "We're pushing for passable roads with grading and gravel and ditching."

Shannondale is a community on the Blue Ridge Mountains, east of the Shenandoah River and just west of the Virginia state line.

The community started in the 1950s as a retreat for summer weekends, with vacation cabins built along a lake and the mountainside.

Property owners paid about $5 a year to maintain the roads.

Over the years, more people began living in Shannondale year round.

But the road maintenance fees remained about the same with residents paying between $5 and $20 each year.

Now some of the 60 miles of roads in the community of 2,300 families are rutted lanes, considered unsafe for motorists and an economic burden to some of the property owners, association officials said.

Some banks will not lend money on properties on some of the roads because the homes are not considered accessible, Warren said.

The legal action is needed to change the covenant. The association would become the owner of the roads and would be responsible for raising money for the their repair and maintenance.

"It'll be your roads and you'll be running them," Warren told those at the meeting.

Homeowners would be charged about $150 a year for road maintenance. If they owned adjoining lots they would not be charged an additional fee for those lots.

Lots without homes would be assessed about $75. Property owners whose lots cannot be built on would be charged a $10 fee.

Property owners would become members of the roads association and would elect a board of directors, said Michael "Mickey" M. Johnson, treasurer of the Shannondale Roads Association.

Johnson said that like the others, he is a plaintiff in the legal action as well as a defendant.

The roads are currently owned by the subdivision, which is owned by Johnson.

Johnson said the current road fee system does not meet the cost of maintaining the roads.

Tess Wynn, a member of the Road Warriors, a neighborhood group formed to raise money to improve the roads they use, said there are parts of the road association's plan she likes.

"Those who use the roads should pay for their maintenance," she said. "While some people give quite generously not all those who use the roads give."

However, she said she is concerned about some of the legal language used in the road association's plans.

She said that it should clearly be spelled out that the road association will work only on the roads.

Wynn said work is needed on many of the roads.

"You'll find most people on this mountain have at least one four-wheel drive vehicle if not two," she said.

When muddy, the vehicles sink and dig ruts in to them, she said.

"There are some places where the pot holes are so huge and so deep that you have to crawl along at 1 mph to get through them," Wynn said.

Wynn has lived in the neighborhood for two years after marrying a man who already had a home there. "I thought the roads were horrendous. I married my husband for better or worse. This is the `for worse' part, dealing with these roads. It's a beautiful neighborhood, excellent neighbors. All we want to do is make sure we have good access to our homes and the ambulances have access to our homes."

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