Ocean View to grant lifetime easement in property-line dispute

Ocean View officials met last week to discuss a license and easement agreement between the Town and a property owner.

“Town staff removed an old fence around a property adjacent to the park here, at 9 Oakwood,” explained Town Manager Dianne Vogel. “The footprint of the property that we originally thought, was actually different than what the property owner thought.”

Vogel said that there is a small triangular-shaped piece of land that the property owner believed to be hers, and that she had planted trees and shrubs in the area, even though the Town’s records show that the small piece of land is actually part of John West Park.

“To put the fence on the correct property line, those items would have to be removed, as well as a well head that would be outside of the fence and literally in our park area,” she said.

Vogel said she had spoken with Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader and that the two believed that the best way to approach the situation would be to prepare a license agreement that would allow the property owner to use the land for the rest of her life, or until she sold the property.

“The idea is that our neighbors will be able to use this tract of land so long as they live, for the purposes that they are currently used for, or until they sell the property,” explained Schrader. “At that time, it comes back into our active use. Within that agreement, there is acknowledgement that the tract of land belongs to the Town.”

Councilman Tom Sheeran asked if there was something in property law that was akin to common-law marriage, wherein if an individual has used a property for a period time, they are then granted rights to that property.

“There is no adverse possession that may run against a governmental agency,” responded Schrader.

The council voted unanimously to authorize Vogel to sign the agreement at the earliest possible time.

“It seems to me this is a reasonable accommodation between the Town and one of our neighbors,” said Councilman Bob Lawless. “It’s something that benefits everybody concerned.”

Also at this week’s meeting, Councilman Bill Olsen asked Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin if the department trains its officers on how to “keep their cool” in a situation where they are dealing with citizens who become aggressive. Olsen referred to incidents that allegedly occurred recently in Rehoboth Beach and Bethany Beach wherein the officers’ use of force has since been questioned.

“We probably conduct more in-service training than any other agency in Sussex County. We annually do use-of-force training. We do have force encounters, just like the others departments do,” responded McLaughlin, adding that an incident had occurred earlier in that very week wherein an officer had had to use a Taser to try to subdue a suspect who was resisting arrest.

“We are also not immune from complaints. I think the Town has an affirmative defense that we do provide our officers with a great deal of when it comes to force-related issues.”

McLaughlin noted that the officers have cameras in their patrol vehicles, and cameras are also issued to officers to be worn on their person.

“They certainly help us document what happens,” he said. He noted, however, that they only provide one angle of view. “I often refer to Sunday football games. We all see the close calls and watch it live on TV. But when they show one of these four or five angles that we all get to see, sometimes the play that looks like it’s in bounds might not be.”

In other news from this week’s meeting:

• The council unanimously approved the extension of accumulated vacation time for employees, which will allow the accumulated leave to be used during the next calendar year.

• The council voted unanimously to appoint Frank Mack to be an alternate member of the Board of Election and Bob Bacon to the Board of Adjustment.

• The council unanimously voted to reappoint Tom Silvia to the Board of Adjustment and Gary Meredith to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

• The first Concert in the Park will be held on Friday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m., featuring Overtime.