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Couple set to sue city for alleged theft of signs

Public right-of-way prevents Fishers from making changes to alley, city attorney says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn couple plans to sue the city after claiming the Public Works Department stole their signs, but the city says the residents never had any right to put the signs up in the first place. Ronald and Judy Fisher own the Pleasant View Apartments on Pleasant Avenue. An alley that brings cars onto their property feeds off of Knoll Street. This summer the city removed two signs the couple had put up near the mouth of the alley that read “Pleasant View Apartments Drive” and “Private Drive, No Trespassing,” and the couple said they plan to take the city to small claims court for theft. According to court documents, in December 2010 a judge awarded default title of the alley to the Fishers. Judy Fisher said the neighbors who surround the alley hold easements over the alley as part of the judgment. Judy Fisher said the couple originally had a lawsuit against the city for the title to the alley, but when they found out the city had a public right-of-way easement over the alley and not a title, Tim Jensen, their attorney, told them they did not need to pursue the lawsuit. Jensen said City Attorney Michael Colantuono originally said the city owned the alley, and so Jensen included the city in the lawsuit. “I proceeded to include the city of Auburn in our lawsuit because we disagreed with that,” he said. “So when I saw that, I dismissed the city from our lawsuit because we never disagreed they had a public easement. Essentially, Colantuono misspoke completely.” Jensen said the city is refusing to let the Fishers make any sort of changes to the alley, including paving. The Fishers said they want to make improvements to the alley because the city hasn’t done so. Colantuono said the Fishers don’t have the right to put up signs naming the alley or make any changes to the road. “What (Jensen) refuses to understand is that when a city has an easement for public right-of-way, it might as well have complete title,” Colantuono said. “There is almost nothing a property owner can do with land burdened by a public right-of-way other than pay taxes.” Colantuono said the city would be happy to give the Fishers their signs back if they agree not to put them up again. Colantuono said the Fishers’ “claimed title” is between them and their neighbors and that the city never agreed to it. The city isn’t able to pave the alley right now and can’t allow the Fishers to do so either, Colantuono said. “The city doesn’t have the money to repave every alley in the city, and the city is not about to give the Fishers paving that others aren’t getting just because the Fishers are being forceful in their desire for it.” Colantuono said the Fishers could get a permit from City Hall to do the work as long as they show it will be done safely, will not cause any drainage issues and won’t get the city sued. He said the couple refuses to do that. Ronald Fisher said he has no intention of getting a permit. He also said he will not sign the form saying he won’t put the signs back up. Currently there is a paper sign that says “Pleasant View Apartments Dr.” on the pole where the permanent signs used to stand. “I’m not signing that form,” Ronald Fisher said. “They don’t have the right here. They don’t have the right to tell us what to do.” Fisher said he is amazed at how much tax money the city is spending pursuing the alley. Colantuono said the city has spent around $10,000. Fisher said he thinks Colantuono needs to come out and see the alley to understand that it does not connect one street to another, but leads drivers into the back of the apartment complex. “If you drove in here, where would you go?” he said. “The only way to get back out is turn around and go back out again.” Judy Fisher said in the past the couple has put blacktop on the alley and cleared it of debris, but can’t do that now. She said the couple has been told a permit is not necessary. “Why do we need a permit?” she said. “That is what our lawyer said, is we don’t need to do anything. It’s still legal as an alley, but it’s our property.” Judy Fisher said Jensen told the couple land ownership it includes the sky to the ground, so the city’s argument doesn’t make sense. Colantuono said the only way the couple would ever have control over the alley is if the city gave up its right-of-way. The Fishers said they are pursuing the case in small claims court because they spent $82 on the signs and don’t understand why the city is spending so much time on the alley. “It’s so weird,” Judy Fisher said. “They are worrying about this little alley that goes right through our property. I can’t think of why they are worrying about this little thing when they have so much to do.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com