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Private fence splits access road in Pasco

HUDSON — Each time Barbara Ryals visited her 520-acre timber grove on Houston Avenue, she'd find that something had changed.

The dirt road got wider. A fence appeared, then a sprinkler system.

Finally, her attorney says, Ryals had enough. She built her own fence, about 1,000 feet of wooden posts laced with barbed wire, to keep trespassers out.

But there's this: Ryals' fence runs right down the middle of Houston Avenue, a private road shared by other businesses and homeowners. Everyone along the street owns the portion of the road abutting their property. Ryals' fence now leaves a single passable lane for the neighbors and dump trucks from a nearby landfill to use.

"It's a very inconvenient situation for everybody," said George Shelepecz, 58, who has lived on Houston Avenue for 20 years.

Mark Buell, Ryals' Tampa attorney, says it's just a matter of a private owner protecting the property that's been in her family since 1956, and that the real hazard is caused by Coastal Landfill and its truck traffic.

"I think the inconvenience is the Coastal operation, the trucks and the noise," Buell said.

He filed suit in June against Coastal on behalf of Ryals' corporation, DCH Timber.

Buell told the Times that Coastal has made improvements to the road — including Ryals' portion of it — such as dumping limerock and rubble, installing sprinklers to control dust and putting up a gate.

Ryals, who lives in Tampa, used to allow the access, but now "it's just gotten to the point where it's just completely out of hand," Buell said.

Coastal officials did not respond to requests for comment. They have applied for and won approval from Pasco County to expand their private landfill to include recycling.

On Sept. 22, the County Commission approved an agreement rezoning Coastal's property for industry. At that same hearing, an attorney for Ryals pressed county officials for an interpretation of the road issues.

The county deemed it "simply an access," which Buell said was the green light for Ryals to construct her fence. It was completed Nov. 10.

Buell said someone pulled the first posts out of the ground. Later, the wire was cut. It now hangs in coils around the posts.

Business is going on as usual at the landfill, though two employees who normally run heavy equipment have been relegated to traffic control duties along Houston Avenue.

Buell said some of the neighbors are siding with Ryals, even prohibiting Coastal from paving the road in front of their homes.

But others are more unhappy about the new barricade.

Shelepecz said he had to widen the opening in the fence in front of his mobile home because he could no longer make the turn with the new fence post in the way.

Tim Altman said he worries for the safety of his wife and four children every time he pulls out of his driveway, which has no clear sight line to the road.

"Something needs to be done because it is affecting the safety of all the residents on the road," Altman, 39, said. "You've got those big trucks coming down the road with heavy loads."

On Oct. 29, the landfill's owner filed a motion for a temporary injunction to stop the fence construction. The motion said that Pasco's emergency services department brought a fire truck to the area and determined that the fence was impeding access. The county issued a cease and desist order, but then withdrew it for a lack of jurisdiction, the motion says.

County officials did not return calls about the matter Tuesday.

Times staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Private fence splits access road in Pasco 11/17/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:02pm]
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