The Commonwealth Court was required to construe Pennsylvania’s Private Road Act to determine whether or not a private road should be opened for public use. In holding that it should be opened, the court found that the petitioner’s property was landlocked and that the road would serve a public purpose.
The Adamses owned a 231-acre tract of land in Colley Township, Sullivan County, which was mostly located on a mountain top (the “Adams Property”). The Corls owned a 500-acre tract to the immediate west of the Adams Property (the “Corl Property”). Both properties were abutted by Route 87 to the south, and Holly Hill Road was to the west of both properties. Holly Hill Road ended on the Corl Property, about 2,200 feet short of the Adams Property. An undeveloped and heavily wooded mountain road, Star Road, was located to the east of the Adams Property.
Chesapeake Corporation, a supplier of natural gas, had a drilling site on the Corl. Property. To utilize this site, it built a roadway from Holly Hill Road across the Corl Property, ending at the Adams Property (the “Chesapeake roadway”). Initially, the Adamses were permitted to access the Adams Property from the west, using the Chesapeake roadway. However, at some point, the Corls instructed Chesapeake to stop them from using the roadway. With Star Road being undeveloped, this left the Adamses with no practical way to access their property.
The Adamses filed a petition under Section 11 of Pennsylvania’s Private Road Act (the “PRA”) to open up the Chesapeake roadway for public use. They alleged that the Adams Property was effectively landlocked. The trial court granted the petition and sent a “board of view” to the properties to inspect them.
After the site visit, the board concluded that converting Star Road into an access road would be prohibitively expensive and arduous for the Adamses. Thus, the only way for the Adamses to access their property would be by using the Chesapeake roadway. On this basis, the trial court ordered that the Chesapeake roadway be opened to public use. The Corls appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The Commonwealth Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The PRA permits the opening of private roads only when “necessary.” Under this statute, it is necessary to open a private road if failing to do so would be extremely difficult or burdensome on property owners without access to their land. After reviewing the findings of the board and the trial court, it determined that the Chesapeake roadway was the only means of access to the Adams Property. While the Corls argued that the Adams could use Star Road, that road was heavily wooded and steep, possessing a 1,000-foot incline. It was necessary to open the Chesapeake roadway.
However, necessity is only one part of the PRA analysis. The opening of a private road must also be for public use. Here, the court found that the roadway allowed Chesapeake Corporation to deliver natural gas to the citizens of Pennsylvania, a public use. Additionally, the Adamses permit hunters to use the Adams Property during hunting season, another public use.
Click here to read: In re Petition of Adams, No. 863 C.D. 2016 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Sep. 21, 2017).