At first, I thought we had vandals in the neighborhood. There were red, blue and yellow stripes painted all over our yards and roadway and some graffiti sprayed across the pavement.
Then I realized they were utility line markings, a little overboard but necessary for people who repair underground phone lines or Cablevision wire.
In came the big machinery: the DitchWitch and other excavating equipment. Trucks and trailers were all parked just off the road so cars could pass down the narrow residential street.
Did I mention residential? It’s a residential neighborhood where homeowners try to keep what realtors call “curb appeal.” They mow yards religiously, plant shrubbery or trees, trim the grass to a razor-sharp edge along the curb and beautify their front yards to reflect their pride in a major investment.
But it’s a spit-in-the-wind effort to keep the onceappealing neighborhood from declining too much. We have a lot of people who rent, and more than a few have that “macht-nichts” (German for “it matters not”) attitude about keeping the property, much less their front yards, from looking like an alfalfa field.
But beware. Before you plan to create a Home & Garden type yard that stretches all the way to the street’s edge, you should know there is a right of way that alltoo-often cuts much deeper into your front yard than you may realize.
In this instance, a cable company decided it must dig holes in the right of way in my front yard and the yards of several neighbors. They were subcontractors, hardworking men who braved the 100-degree heat to install a new cable. The lone beneficiary lived further down the road. Ironically, I’m not a cable customer. Neither are my neighbors.
My greatest gripe centers around the money we’ve spent trying to stop the erosion of our drainage ditch. Water rushes off the road and cuts deep gullies, exposing red clay and sand. We bought landscape timber, pavers and topsoil, and we toiled on hot days trying to fix the problem — several times. Then, along comes a gas, Cablevision or some other utility contractor and digs up that very spot. It’s frustrating.
While this particular incident was not a Fayetteville Public Works Commission matter, PWC Communications Director Carolyn Justice-Hinson and her staff understand the frustrations residents may have about easements and rights of way. They’re working on a brochure that explains what a right of way along your property or an easement across your property is all about. It should be done soon.
Become familiar with your property. Check the plats, survey maps and even your deed. Know how far a right of way eats into your yard. And, know if you have an easement across your property. Easements can have rules and restrictions that severely limit what you can do on your property.
There’s a difference between an easement and a right of way. Property owners usually grant a utility or public service agency the right to use a portion of the property for installing utilities, either below or above ground.
On the other hand, a right of way is a strip of land owned by the highway department or other public agency. It lies right next to your property.
Once you or a former owner grants an easement across your property, your rights with what you may want to do with it become limited. You’re expected to maintain it and pay the property taxes, but someone else decides what you can put on it. No permanent structures like sheds, swimming pools, decks, gazebos or sometimes trees or fences. If you do, and the utility needs access to the ground underneath, they’ll move it — at your expense.
Easements and rights of way come in different sizes. PWC’s, for example, is about 30 to 50 feet, depending on the voltage of overhead power lines. Water mains need less, but the exact size depends on the size of the pipe.
So, if you’re one of the many recently annexed Fayettevillians due to get sewer lines down your street, you could wake up and find a bulldozer parked on your front lawn. Relax. It may be an ugly sight, but it’s probably not on your property.