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Un-paving paper highways

By Fritz Mayer
March 15, 2011

Sullivan County has long been thought of as a vacation spot for tourists from New York City. That was true way back in 1852, when a group of investors bought land now known as The Flats and Irish Hill in Narrowsburg with the idea that they would sell 200 lots, sized 50 feet by 100 feet, to city dwellers who could ride the Erie Railroad, which ran through the development, to reach their modest country properties.

According to Tony Ritter, who now lives on Lake Street, nothing much came of the development called The Home Association of Narrowsburg, and many of the roads were never built. However, they do exist on paper, which can cause problems for present-day property owners who might want to sell a parcel that contains one of the phantom roads.

One of Ritter’s neighbors was twice stymied in attempts to sell her home because the existence of a paper road through her property made it impossible to get clear title. Ritter, who is chairman of the Tusten Zoning Board of Appeals, has spent the past couple of years consulting with town and county officials in an attempt to untangle the problem.

On a visit to the government center on March 10, Ritter explained that in the 1990s, the county gathered all of the paper roads and combined them into one lot and began charging the town $10 per year in taxes for the roads. But the town didn’t technically own the roads because they belonged to The Home Association of Narrowsburg.

Town officials wanted to help the neighbors, but they could not do that unless the town owned the roads. It was determined, therefore, that the town would stop paying the taxes on the paper roads, and after two years the county would be able to condemn the paper roads because of nonpayment of taxes. The county would then sell the roads to the town.

At the meeting, lawmakers voted to do just that; the county sold seven paper roads to Tusten for $1,914.45 to pay for recording fees, back taxes and other charges. Ritter followed the process closely, not wanting the condemned roads to end up in the county auction, which would have created even more complications.

Further, one of the roads, which actually ultimately became a road, and leads to Ritter’s house, the Narrowsburg Methodist Church and other neighboring properties is listed as one of the paper roads, and Ritter wanted to be sure that road remains a road open to the public.

Now the town will likely allow the homeowners with the most direct interest to purchase the paper roads.