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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2005 06:27 am

The road to resolution

Two possibilities emerge to solve residents’ dispute with the Hope School

Hazel Lane residents, shown here gathered to meet a photographer, say Hope School traffic made their street unsafe until Woodside Township installed a gate blocking access to the school.

The decade-old dispute over a narrow block-long road leading to the Hope School now has two routes available for resolution without a trial. One is a motion for summary judgment filed by Woodside Township on July 28; the other is an agreement proposed by the Hope School and re-crafted by Woodside road commissioner Don Duffy.

Either route could end a conflict that dates back to at least 1995, when residents of Hazel Lane petitioned Woodside Township, complaining that the school’s 300 employees and assorted delivery trucks created traffic problems on their street — a tiny lane with 17 single-family homes. The residents asked for a new road to be built to provide access to the school from East Hazel Dell Lane, and, once the new road was built, for a gate to be installed where Hazel Lane dead-ends into one of the Hope School’s parking lots. The gate would preserve Hazel Lane as a secondary access to the school for emergency vehicles, but would alleviate the crush of everyday school traffic on their street.

Duffy forwarded the residents’ request to the city of Springfield, which owns the property on which Hope School is located. In a letter dated March 11, 1995, and addressed to then-city engineer Richard Benning, Duffy explained the traffic problems, the need for a new road, and the plan to install a gate. It took years of design studies and more than $225,000 of city funds, but Springfield eventually did construct a new road providing access to the school from East Hazel Dell Lane. Six feet wider than Hazel Lane, the avenue opened in January 2004.

But residents along Hazel Lane claim school employees and delivery trucks ignored the new road and continued to rumble up and down their small street. When Duffy installed the gate as promised, the Hope School filed a lawsuit against him and Woodside Township, claiming the gate “closed” the road without due process and also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Hope School, a not-for-profit residential and educational facility, serves children with developmental disabilities.

In its motion for summary judgment, Woodside Township argues that the road is not closed; it is open all the way to the spot where it dead-ends into the school parking lot. As for the ADA claims, Woodside argues the act provides only that disabled citizens be treated equally with non-disabled, and that the gate (which is never locked) bars all vehicles except emergency vehicles from entering the Hope School.

An editorial published Sunday in the State Journal-Register touted an agreement proposed by the Hope School to conduct a 60-day traffic study to see whether school employees and delivery trucks create a hazard on Hazel Lane, and implied that township trustees could ratify the agreement this week. Duffy, however, is a publicly elected road commissioner and does not answer to township trustees except on budget matters. He says he has sent the Hope School’s proposed agreement back with added requirements.

The editorial also claims the Hope School has “been emphatic in instructing its employees, delivery drivers and visitors to use the new road, not Hazel Lane.” Yet as recently as July 17, SJ-R published an advertisement placed by the Hope School seeking lifeguards and directing candidates to apply in person at 50 Hazel Lane. The school has apparently not adopted a new address to correspond to the new access road.

Joseph Nyre, president and CEO of the Hope School, was not available to return a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

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