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County considers abandoning Lewis Circle

Following a two-hour discussion on whether to pave Lewis Circle in Gray, members of the Washington County Public Works Committee voted to recommend the county abandon it.
“I didn’t know exactly how to approach this, so I brought it here,” Mayor Dan Eldridge said during the Dec. 4 meeting. “I have had two members of the community and three commissioners express concern to me about their perception that Washington County is basically developing a new street for the benefit of a private landowner.”
Commissioners considered a resolution accepting Lewis Circle as a Washington County road during their November 2011 meeting.
The resolution describes Lewis Circle as a private drive off of Sand Valley Road in the 5th Civil District with multiple homes having access to the private drive.
While the resolution passed, the vote was far from unanimous.
Among the objectors were Commissioner Sam Humphreys, who had heard a subdivision was being developed there, and Commissioner Roger Nave, who said the request was never approved by the Jonesborough Planning Commission.
Highway Superintendent John Deakins explained then, and again during the Dec. 4 meeting, that the request to take Lewis Circle into the county road system was actually received and approved by the Public Works Committee during 2008.
“The petition came in, but was put in the wrong file by mistake and sat for three years until the landowner went to the Town of Jonesborough about (another matter) and realized it wasn’t part of the county system,” Deakins said.
A long discussion was held regarding the number of houses on the road versus the number of owners, and whether Lewis Circle ever met the eligibility requirements to be considered a county road.
The general commission rule requires there be a minimum of three property owners, but research indicates Pascal Lewis has been the sole owner of all the lots on Lewis Circle since the process began in 2008.
“It sounds like what I’m hearing is commissioners didn’t realize in 2011 (when they accepted the resolution) that they were only talking about one owner,” County Attorney John Rambo said.
Deakins said he was the one who pushed to get the resolution passed. “We made a mistake in 2008 and came back in 2011,” he said. “In the past, if they touched the right-of-way, they were considered property owners.”
Chair Gearld Sparks agreed the committee did not feel it was a private road, if property owners on Sand Valley Road were included, when the request was considered in 2008.
“That plat was lost for three years in a file,” he said.
Deakins offered two options: begin the process to abandon the road, which means the landowner would be responsible for maintenance; or reclassify from a new road to Class 4 but keep it in system.
Commissioner Mike Ford said Lewis Circle is made up of only two tire tracks.
Rambo referred to the guidelines the county now has in place with the resolution adopted during March 2011 establishing policy for the acceptance of new and existing roads for county maintenance and for their classification.
“If you abandon it, property owners still have access; it’s just not a county road,” Rambo said. “The commission does not have the authority to landlock.”
Rambo reviewed the road closure policy adopted in 2009, noting the county commission has the final say and is not bound by recommendations from the Highway Department or the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Richard Matherly made a motion to recommend the county abandon Lewis Circle. The motion was seconded by Ben Bowman and passed unanimously.