By Alex Bridges
Strasburg may likely never build the long-planned, yet controversial road connecting two neighborhoods.
Members of a Town Council committee came to a consensus Monday that Strasburg shouldn't pursue the construction of a connector between Crystal Hill and Madison Heights subdivisions, at least not at this time.
Also during the meeting, a councilman mentioned that relatives by marriage own property a connector road would affect. No one at the meeting questioned whether Councilman Seth Newman's relationship to the landowners poses a conflict of interest.
Town Attorney Nathan Miller said Tuesday that such a conflict likely doesn't exist but added that he didn't know all the facts in the matter. Miller did not attend the committee meeting.
"The issue you always have in small communities with people serving on these boards and councils is the potential for conflict and the potential is more direct than the actual, and that is the perception of it," Miller said. "If the town were going to take one of those lots in a condemnation, I would think there he would have to recuse himself from voting on that or discussing it because he may have a close enough interest."
The attorney noted that some people recuse themselves regardless of the closeness of the relationship to the subject matter just to avoid the perception of a conflict.
Newman claimed at the meeting that in building this water line the town took land from the properties adjacent to the connector by making the slope steep on both sides.
Newman told the committee that his mother-in-law, Linda Williams, owns one of the properties while his uncle-in-law, David Smith, owns the other.
Newman also publicly criticized Town Manager Judson Rex for not explaining to him and the landowners the full impact the water line construction would have on the properties. Newman said the minutes of the committee's last meeting stated that Rex did explain the impact of the construction.
"It kinda set me off when I'm reading the meeting minutes as [saying] we should have known," Newman said. "Well, we did not know, did not know a road was going in there."
Newman said he and the owners understood that the town would obtain an easement to park equipment and excavate the area to install the water line. Newman said Rex explained that the town would then regrade the property back to its original condition. Williams and Smith signed papers granting the easement, Newman said.
"[Rex] did not tell me we would lose use of that property or a portion of that property," Newman said. "He did not tell me that the property corner would be 25 feet in the air on that corner."
Newman voiced concerns that the town may need more property should it build the road on the easement. Newman said he doesn't oppose a connector road.
"This is eminent domain," Newman said. "Property was taken for the greater good and it didn't go through due process. Judson, I'm angry about that."
Rex asked if he could respond.
"First off, I apologize if how I explained the temporary easements were misunderstood to not reflect what really happened out there but I did show the plans to Linda and Dave probably you, too, and the easement language was written specifically that we would have to restore what was there except for grading," Rex said. "It was never my intent to deceive anybody or misrepresent what the town's efforts to improve a water line or what those improvements were going to be so I apologize if that was the case."
Councilman Rich Orndorff Jr. recalled that when plans for subdivisions came before council in the early 2000s during his time as mayor, designs included a proposed road connector.
The Community Plan adopted by council in September 2012 shows a future connector road for the two subdivisions, Rex said Tuesday. However, the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 2003 also showed a possible connector between the neighborhoods.
No road currently exists in the area that contains the new water line, and the town has installed chains to restrict access to the easement, Rex advised.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org