NEW PORT RICHEY — A judge ruled Thursday that the wooden fence posts running down the middle of Houston Avenue can remain — for now.
Late last month, the fence appeared in the middle of a privately owned stretch of Houston Avenue in Hudson. It sits on the property line of DCH Timber, a 520-acre timber grove off U.S. 19. That property line extends to the middle of the street.
The property owners on the other side of Houston likewise own the portion of roadway fronting their lots. The new fence has left them with only one lane to get in and out of their homes.
It's also hindering access for the more than 100 dump trucks that use the road every day to reach Coastal Landfill, adjacent to the DCH property.
And that's the reason for the fence.
Mark Buell, attorney for DCH owner Barbara Ryals, says Coastal has been trespassing on DCH's property — using its side of the road for truck access, installing a sprinkler system to control dust and putting down lime rock.
"They've slowly, gradually expanded Houston Avenue," Buell told Circuit Judge Lowell Bray.
He added that there's no dispute over who owns the property at issue. It has been in Ryals' family since 1956.
Shelly Johnson, who represents Coastal, said the private landfill has been in operation more than 20 years, all while using Houston Avenue without dispute.
"Our position is both the north and south lanes of this road have been utilized for access for many years," Johnson said. "We think we do have easement rights to it."
Residents on Houston say the fence is an inconvenience and a safety hazard.
Debra Zampetti, Pasco County's zoning and code compliance administrator, said officials have determined there is enough room for emergency vehicles to get in and out, though "vehicles may need to yield to emergency personnel by pulling off onto grassy area to (the) south."
Coastal and DCH, who are embroiled in a lawsuit, came to court Thursday because Buell was seeking an injunction to keep Coastal employees from trespassing or destroying DCH's fence. When construction began, Buell said, some posts were pulled up and the barbed wire was cut.
Johnson, who said Coastal had nothing to do with the vandalism, agreed to the injunction but said her side would be back with another request.
"We are going to be coming back to the court and ask that the fence be removed," Johnson said.
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