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Uneasy Easement
by Ron Davis

An Ohio business owner’s efforts to block public access to the rear of an adjacent shopping center have failed.

The shopping center is located in Walbridge, and the business owner bought the neighboring property several years ago to operate a health club. Providing an access to, first, the health club and then the rear of the shopping center is a street that the previous owner of the club property held title to but donated to the town of Walbridge by granting an easement. That street eventually extends to a nearby public park.

The club owner objected to the use of the street as a public right of way and tried to limit access with various obstructions. He argued that the easement was granted only for purposes of a fire lane and nothing more. In response, town officials sued the club owner, noting that the deed is silent as to the purpose of the easement and therefore the town can use the street for any "reasonable" governmental purpose.

Not so, the club owner replied. He contended that the easement does not grant the town use of the street for current functions: garbage pickup, parking by patrons of the shopping center, and the "personal purposes" of the shopping center’s business owners. In fact, the previous owner of the easement never expressly stated his wishes for the road’s use.

An Ohio court sided with town officials, however, reasoning that the easement created a "street right of way" that benefits the town and the public. The court therefore ordered the health club owner to allow public use of the street and to stop obstructing the passageway. The health club owner appealed that order.

An Ohio appellate court ruled that the easement only extends to the rear of the shopping center. In that case, the court added, the purpose of the easement was simply to give the town access to the back of the shopping center. Explained the court, “This finding is further supported by the fact that the town requires refuse pickup to occur at the rear of the [shopping center] building and has been using the easement for that purpose.”

The court also agreed that the health-club owner must discontinue any attempts to halt access to the rear of the shopping center by the use of obstructions. (Village of Walbridge v. Carroll, 2007 WL 2019660 [Ohio App. 6 Dist.])

Decision: July 2007
Published: August 2007



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