As communities in New England continue to grow at a rapid rate, businesses and property developers may plan Rhode Island construction projects that require the rerouting or elimination of public roads. Occasionally, other residents or businesses who oppose eliminating or changing a public road for a private purpose may object to the construction plans. In these cases, the municipality must decide whether to allow the development or not. This issue was addressed in a recently published decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, where a neighboring business challenged a town’s decision to allow construction of a development that required a public road to be discontinued and replaced by a private boulevard.
In the recently decided case, the plaintiffs are the owners of a hotel that is adjacent to a business development owned by another party. According to the facts discussed in the court’s opinion, the adjoining property owners sought to expand their business development with new construction on an adjacent lot, which they also owned. To complete their construction, a public road, which was one of three accesses to the plaintiff’s hotel, would need to be eliminated and reconstructed as a private road that would be in the middle of the newly-proposed development. The town ultimately approved the developers’ plan, with the condition that the discontinued road would be replaced by a road that was open to the public and allowed the same access to the plaintiff’s property as the current road.
After the development plan was approved, the plaintiffs challenged the decision, ultimately taking their case to the state supreme court. The plaintiffs argued that the replacement of a public road with a private one infringed on their rights and threatened their business interests. The high court evaluated the balancing test applied by the town in making its decision, and ruled that the town followed the law and was within its discretion to determine that approving the proposed development was in the town’s best interest. The town properly determined that discontinuing the public road did not substantially affect the plaintiff’s rights because the developers would be required to maintain the private road and grant an easement to the plaintiffs. As a result of the high court decision, the developers will continue the construction of their proposed development, and the public road will be discontinued.