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Edwards v. Plalan Lake Road Maintenance, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eleventh District, Trumbull

April 30, 2018

RICHARD A. EDWARDS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
PLALAN LAKE ROAD MAINTENANCE, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

          Civil Appeal from the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2014 CV 00627.

          Kevin P. Murphy, and Matthew G. Vansuch, Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, Ltd., (For Plaintiff-Appellee).

          Thomas C. Nader, Nader & Nader, (For Defendant-Appellant).

          OPINION

          THOMAS R. WRIGHT, J.

         {¶1} This appeal is from an entry granting summary judgment in favor of appellee, Richard A. Edwards, on all issues in his declaratory judgment claim. Appellant, Plalan Lake Road Maintenance, Inc., argues that the trial court erred in calculating the amount of yearly fees Edwards is required to pay for the maintenance of private roads within a housing development. For the following reasons, the judgment is affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

         {¶2} In 2005, Edwards purchased ten distinct tracts of land in the Plalan Lakes and Park subdivision. This housing development was formed in 1961 when Morris Goldsmith executed a quitclaim deed in favor of Albert A. Wickley, Jr., in regard to a substantial parcel of land in Farmington Township, Trumbull County, Ohio. Under its original plat, the subdivision had eighty-eight building lots intended for residential homes, larger tracts of land for a park/resort area, and at least five private roads.

         {¶3} Pursuant to the terms of the "Goldsmith" quitclaim deed, Wickley agreed to take the entire parcel subject to certain restrictions. One restriction addresses the "recreational" area and the maintenance of the private roads:

         {¶4} "No owner of a lot in this subdivision shall have any interest in or right to use the recreational area or lake area in this subdivision as shown upon the plat recorded in Plat Volume 27, Page 8 of the Trumbull County Records unless he is the owner of an interest in such recreational area or lake area holding a deed or certificate evidencing such interest therein. * * * Each owner of a lot as described herein shall, in the event he is not the owner of a certificate or deed evidencing an interest in the recreational area and lake area in this subdivision, pay the sum of Twenty Dollars ($20.00) per year annually upon such date as may be determined by the owner or a Board of Trustees established by such owner, for the purpose of the maintenance of such private roads and the payment of taxes on the area comprising such roads."

         {¶5} During the first decade of the subdivision's existence, steps were taken to develop the recreational area of the proposed park/resort. However, a majority of the land comprising the recreational area remained undeveloped. Moreover, Albert A. Wickley, Jr. did not retain ownership of the undeveloped recreational tracts or the unsold "building" lots. At some point, these parts of the subdivision, plus the land upon which the private roads were located, were conveyed to Plalan Lake and Park, Inc.

         {¶6} Sometime in the 1990's, appellant was formed as a separate corporate entity for the express purpose of taking ownership of the subdivision's private roads and providing for their maintenance. Initially, Plalan Lake and Park conveyed the property comprising two of the private subdivision roads to appellant. However, ownership of the remaining three roads, including Lake Road and South Park Road, stayed with Plalan Lake and Park until August 2001. These two roads conveyed to appellant intersect. Under the original plat, one corner of the proposed recreational area abutted the intersection. In addition, three of the large tracts forming the recreational area were adjacent to the entire length of South Park Road. As to the section of Lake Road that was adjacent to the corner of the recreational area, six building lots abutted the road on the other side. As of 2001, none of these six lots had been sold to an individual owner for construction of a house.

         {¶7} In August 2001, Plalan Lake and Park executed a general warranty deed in favor of Albert A. Wickley, Jr., conveying to him ten adjoining tracts of land within the subdivision. Six of the tracts were the vacant building lots that abutted the northernmost section of Lake Road. The remaining four tracts formed a significant portion of the land which had been designated as the recreational area on the original plat. Of those four tracts, three were the large parcels of land that were adjacent to the entire length of South Park Road.

         {¶8} The general warranty deed to Wickley contains terms labeled "Covenants." The "Roads" covenant governing the payment of road maintenance fees states:

         {¶9} "Grantee shall pay the current equivalent value in dollars of One Hundred (Year 2000) Dollars ($100.00) per year, for each 200 ft. road frontage which such owner owns, for road maintenance, annually, to the Grantor and its assigns on the date, and upon such terms as the Grantor and its assigns shall determine and direct."

         {¶10} In relation to the subdivision roads, the covenants in the "Wickley" general warranty deed provided:

         {¶11} "Grantor reserves the right to convey any road on which the above described premises has frontage to Plalan Lake Road Maintenance, Inc. In the event of such a conveyance, the bylaws of said ...


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