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Conception Bay South must pay up for building mysterious road, Supreme Court says

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It’s a mysterious road built by the Town of Conception Bay South on private land, and the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador sided with the owner in a recent court decision.

Sun Construction Co. Ltd. visited the vacant land on Perrins Road in July 2015 and found the town had built a paved roadway and turnaround there.

The timing remains a mystery.

“The town’s current staff, not employed prior to July 2015, have no knowledge of the roadworks, and a search of town records disclosed no information. The town said that it was possible that the roadworks were undertaken as part of a 2012 roads paving program, but there were no records available in relation to the program,” Justice Deborah Paquette said in her decision.

Sun Construction insisted its private property was constructively expropriated by the town, and Paquette agreed.

The best guess is the paved road and turnaround were built sometime between 2013 and when it was discovered in 2015.

But the Town of Conception Bay South, according to the decision, initially insisted in the challenge that it had a prescriptive easement over the property because it had been used as a roadway and turnaround by the public since 2005. The town produced some aerial photographs — the 2013 photo showed a gravel driveway and turnaround — but eventually abandoned that defence.

The town always knew the land was owned by the company, which had been paying taxes on it since 1997 and had applied for a three-lot residential building development permit in 2008, which lapsed. The company, however, said development was still a possibility at some point, but the road diminished the lots.

Sun Construction had proposed a monetary settlement, but the town wouldn’t agree and said it would remove the asphalt, but was short on details, and those talks never got anywhere.

Paquette said she was satisfied the private land was converted to a public road that impeded other “reasonable uses” of that portion of the property.

“Indeed, the applicant or its invitees cannot walk upon or otherwise use the roadworks without fear of being struck by vehicular traffic,” Paquette stated. “The town’s assertion that the applicant was not using its land for any designated purpose and therefore cannot demonstrate interference with any land use is not credible. If landowners choose to keep lands vacant, they should be entitled to do so without fear of state interference.”

Sun Construction bought the land in 1997 from the trustee in bankruptcy for the estate of the then owners. They had lived in a trailer there from 1976 to 1995, and it had been family land since at least 1947. According to affidavits cited in the decision, the father and subsequently his son and wife “never granted any roadways, paths, easements, rights of way or leases affecting the property.”

The court said Sun Construction has the right to file a compensation claim as if the land had been expropriated. Failing agreement with the town on a price, it will proceed to a decision by a board of assessors.

Town officials said they could not comment until they finish reviewing the decision.

Sun Construction could not be reached for comment.

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