A Rehoboth Beach property owner has detailed his side in a civil lawsuit – decided in his favor – that he says demonstrates that a change is needed in the city's leadership.
The story begins in 2008 when former Commissioner Paul Kuhns and his wife, Anne, bought property at 101 Lake Drive.
In 2009, the Kuhns sought to build a new home on their lot. There are no water or sewer mains on Lake Drive; the property is served by connections to mains a block away on St. Lawrence Street. The pipes serving the Kuhns’ property run under the eastern edge of neighbor Bruce Hiler’s property.
Paul Kuhns said when he tore down the house that had been on the property, the existing water and sewer lines, which have been in place since the 1930s, were capped.
When the Kuhns decided to build a new house, court documents say, contractor Harry Caswell recommended upgrading the pipes.
But when Caswell began digging on Hiler’s property, Hiler objected and ordered Caswell to cease work. The Kuhns and the city claimed an easement allows work on the portion of the pipe that lies on Hiler’s property, but Hiler claimed the Kuhns and the city were trespassing on his property.
Ultimately, Court of Chancery Judge Sam Glasscock denied the Kuhns’ motion for summary judgment and ruled in favor of Hiler, agreeing there is no easement. However, Glasscock denied Hiler’s request for injunctive relief and attorneys fees and awarded Hiler only $3 in damages for trespassing.
Glasscock gave Kuhns and the city 90 days from May 28 to report progress on a sewer main to serve the Kuhns’ property. Glasscock’s opinion also says the city has stated it will provide water service to the Kuhns property via pipes on Lake Drive. Glasscock’s decision is subject to potential appeal on the matter of damages.
Hiler said his primary concern is that the city failed to fulfill its obligation to properly provide water and sewer to the Kuhns by extending the sewer lines.
In a letter to the editor of the Cape Gazette, Hiler said, “Rather than extending the lines, the city precipitated costly litigation with the hope that an easement would be established in our lawsuit so that it could have precedent for when other Rehoboth Beach property owners discover that there are old, substandard, terra cotta water and sewer lines running under their properties, and perhaps even under their homes or other structures, from a neighboring property.”
Hiler said it was time to make public his dispute with the city so other citizens would be aware of it.
Cooper said the lines at St. Lawrence Street have been there for 70 years with no problem until now. He said the city’s position was to preserve the status quo.
Kuhns said it was a long, drawn-out process, with a resolution that everyone seems happy with. However, he said, it is unfortunate that Hiler was using the judge’s decision to criticize the mayor.
Kuhns said the city is conducting surveying work to put a line on King Charles Avenue that will come out on Lake Avenue and serve his property. He said the city is paying for the improvements, but it's unlikely they will be done until after summer.
“We’re just moving forward,” Kuhns said.