For three years, Heather Daniels and William Reynolds have lived happily together in a house on Birchwood Drive in Princetown. They grew attached to their address, so when the county decided to rename their section of road Muriel Peterson Drive after the late town supervisor, they filed a lawsuit.
“This case smacks of government hubris,” Reynolds said. He’s a self-employed lawyer, among other things, and is representing Daniels in the case.
Birchwood Drive was a roughly one-mile section of blacktop connecting Duanesburg and Pangburn roads over Interstate 88 in Princetown. Early this spring, county government decided to allow the state Department of Transportation to remove the deteriorated bridge over the interstate, turning Birchwood into two short dead-end roads. Reynolds said DOT representatives canvassed the area, gauging public opinion prior to that decision. Locals didn’t seem to mind the idea of losing their bridge.
The problem arose when residents of the western half of Birchwood looked out their windows in early October to see new road signs.
“They just took down our old sign and hung the new one,” said Linda Lausche. “Someone’s already taken black paint and scribbled over it — somebody madder than we are.”
A Schenectady County spokesman could not gather information or comment on the matter late Monday, but according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 5 in state Supreme Court in Montgomery County, Schenectady County was attempting to avoid navigational confusion between the two sections of road. It’s a reasonable goal, as two disconnected Birchwood Drives would likely confuse someone not familiar with the area, but Reynolds said the government went about the change in the wrong way.
He suggests the two roads be named Birchwood Drive East and West, and says a whole new name is unnecessary.
“I drive part time for FedEx,” he said, “and I know from experience that it takes literally years for GPS and mapping systems to catch up with a wholesale change.”
He also has 1,000 business cards printed with the old address, but the inconvenience isn’t his main objection. “They didn’t ask anyone before just making the decision,” he said. “Government isn’t supposed to work that way.”
The lawsuit specifically calls out Schenectady County Legislator Angelo Santabarbara for sponsoring the legislation; County Fire Coordinator John Nuzback, who recommended the name-change; and county Public Works Director Joseph Ryan, who allegedly suggested the change.
County government legally has the power to change the names of county roads. Even so, Reynolds contends the affected residents should have been consulted based on Highway Law 131-f.
The law doesn’t apply directly to the situation based upon a technicality, but states the name of a county road can only be changed “on the petition of the property owners, who own more than one-half of the frontage.”
Along with filing the suit, Reynolds and Daniels started a petition to get their road renamed Birchwood Drive West. Of the 15 residents, 12 signed.
Two of those signatures belong to Linda and Jerry Laushe.
“Because we like Birchwood Drive,” she said.
Reynolds had what he called a “spirited debate” in a preliminary hearing Monday morning before Judge Joseph Sise.