In court ruling, judge sides with Oak Hills residents

A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that Riverhead Town’s Highway Department must maintain roads in the Oak Hills Association, a private community in Baiting Hollow that has received town highway services in the past and which has argued that it is entitled to the department’s services. 

Judge David Reilly on Jan. 6 ruled that the Oak Hills roads are public roads subject to “state Highway Law 189,” and that 2015 Town Board resolutions passed by the board on this issue “are inconsistent with NYS Highway Law.”

“After six and a half years, and three separate related matters, we’re pleased to see that the court found in our favor, as we knew it would,” said David Antwork, the attorney for the the association. “It just took a long time and we’re glad we got a positive ruling that gives us the status of public highways by use, pursuant to New York State highway laws, and requiring the town to maintain those roads as such.”

The town has yet to decide if it will appeal. “The matter is being reviewed by the town attorney’s office and it’s possible that the board will be appealing the decision,” said Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar. 

The Oak Hills Association contains 85 homes and 12 roads and was founded in 1947. 

In October of 2014, then-Riverhead Highway Superintendent George Woodson sent a letter to Oak Hills Association members that the town would no longer maintain or remove snow from Oak Hills except in an emergency. Oak Hill residents were angered by the letter and argued that the town had maintained Oak Hills’ roads for many years, providing snow plowing, fixing pot holes and removing debris. 

Two months later, in December 2014, the Town Board held a public hearing to determine if Oak Hills roads had become “public roads by use” under state Highway law. In 2015, the Town Board amended its code to say that “public by use” is “any highway that has been utilized by the public for a period of 10 years of more  and over which the local authority has exercised some degree of control in the form of maintenance.”  

The Town Board declared all of the Oak Hill roads to be “Town of Riverhead 189 Highways,” referring to state highway law 189.

But the Oak Hills Association said that even after the town amended its rules in 2015, “it did not consistently plow snow or otherwise maintain OHA roadways.”  It also maintained that the town was responsible for numerous other services, such as maintaining catch basins, drainage and tree trimming, which was not being done.  In 2016, the OHA  filed a lawsuit against the town and the highway department and against the Town Board and its members individually. 

The lawsuit sought to have the Oak Hills roads declared public roads and requiring the town to not only remove snow but also to treat all OHA roads as public roads. The  judge also ruled that the OHA private beach shall remain private and was not made public by this decision.