A paved path that meanders through an Amherst golf course and the backyards of some adjoining residential properties is in the legal rough again.
For years, golfers and residents alike shared the path, with golfers from Glen Oak Golf Course allowed on the property owners’ portion of the path and Ransom Oaks residents allowed to take walks or ride bikes along the path in the golf course.
But the peaceful coexistence ended in 2008, when Glen Oak Golf Course closed its portion of the path to residents.
At first, the Ransom Oaks residential community board advised residents to stay off the path in the golf course while allowing golfers to continue to use the path on the residential properties.
But then it asked residents to block the path on their lots and to put up signs warning that golfers would be prosecuted for trespassing if they followed the path onto the private properties.
It also warned any golf balls found on Ransom Oaks properties would be seized.
“If the golf course won’t allow Ransom Oaks residents to use parts of the path they don’t own, why should (Ransom Oaks) allow golfers to use the part of the path that Ransom Oaks members own?” Craig R. Bucki, a lawyer representing Ransom Oaks, asked during a court hearing. “As the old saying goes, your Honor, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
One resident, Andrea P. Weissenburg, put up a sign and also put in a sandbox and children’s play set that blocked golfers from crossing her portion of the path.
The golf course sued her. She eventually settled the lawsuit by taking down the play equipment and accepting $18,000 from the golf course for the portion of her lot where the path crosses.
Then Ransom Oaks sued her and the golf course.
“My client is like a pingpong ball in the middle getting blasted from both sides, your Honor,” said David V. Jaworksi, Weissenburg’s attorney, at the hearing. “And thousands of dollars and legal fees later, here we stand.”
Ransom Oaks sued her because she sold the property without seeking approval of its architectural committee, Bucki said. That violated the residential community’s covenant that says no lot shall be split, divided or subdivided without the panel’s OK, Bucki said.
The lawsuit, filed in February by Ransom Oaks Community Corp., names Golf & County Clubs Inc. and Weissenburg as defendants. The suit remains pending before State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski.
Path’s legal past
Legal battles involving the path began in 1988, when Ransom Oaks sued the golf course to force it to make improvements to the path.
James I. Myers, the golf course attorney, said Ransom Oaks wanted the golf course to spend $170,000 on reconstructing the path and building a bridge. After a trial three years later, a judge ruled the golf course had an obligation to maintain the path but not to the extent that Ransom Oaks wanted.
The path and the course were built in 1969 near Smith Road, and eventually the Ransom Oaks residential community was built next door, according to Myers.
The golf course deed contained a provision allowing Ransom Oaks residents to use the golf path, and it created easements allowing golfers to use portions of the path that run through some of the Ransom Oaks lots, he said.
The golf course closed the path on the course to the residents in 2008, when the deed provision allowing them access expired, according to Myers.
The Ransom Oaks board advised residents to stay off the course.
Myers said residents walking and biking on the course path presented a hazard.
“There was a danger of people being hit and injured by golf balls,” he told The Buffalo News.
He said he knew of a couple people injured when struck by golf balls.
“That’s a red herring,” Bucki replied during an interview with The News.
Not ‘a good neighbor’
After the course closed the path to residents, Ransom Oaks asked the course owners if they would be willing to mitigate the risk by purchasing insurance, Bucki said.
The residential community offered to share the cost, he said.
But the golf course rejected the idea.
The closing ended more than three decades of what Bucki called “a nice coexistence.”
“The golf course closed the path,” he said. “They don’t want to be a good neighbor.”
So in 2011, Ransom Oaks advised residents to close their portions of the path to golfers.
Ransom Oaks sent a letter to Weissenburg and other residents asking them to post signs warning golfers to stay off their property or face arrest for trespassing.
That summer, Myers said, Weissenburg followed Ransom Oaks’ advice and put up the sign and also the children’s play equipment to prevent golfers from using her portion of the path.
The golf course sued Weissenburg to prevent her from interfering with golfers on her part of the path. It claimed “adverse possession” of the path on her lot because it said it had been maintaining the entire path for years.
Weissenburg eventually took down the play equipment and conceded the golf course’s adverse possession claim, Myers said.
In September 2012, she was paid “a minimal amount,” and the golf course secured a quitclaim deed for her part of the path, said Jaworksi, who is Weissenburg’s attorney.
He said the land transfer does not violate the Ransom Oaks covenant because it was not a conveyance of property. He said the golf course already owned the property by adverse possession as a result of maintaining it for years.
Ransom Oaks reacts
Ransom Oaks, in its suit against her, said it was never consulted about the golf course’s suit against her or the settlement.
Ransom Oaks asked the court to declare the sale null and void and to rule the golf course owners cannot buy or use the portions of the path that are on Ransom Oaks property. It also asks the court to order the owners to pay for the violation of the covenant and for Ransom Oaks’ legal costs.
Myers called the Ransom Oaks lawsuit a pretext for Ransom Oaks getting what it really wants – access for its residents to the path on the course.
He said the central issue is whether the owners of the course have the right to continue to use, manage and maintain the entire path, which they say has been part of the course for more than 40 years.