The gate across Sunset Drive will have to be removed for now.
Following a two and a half hour hearing Wednesday in DeKalb County Chancery Court, Chancellor Ronald Thurman granted the county's petition and issued a temporary injunction to enjoin Robert Grant Manning from obstructing Sunset Drive with a gate.
The temporary injunction will remain in effect until a final hearing in the case but Chancellor Thurman has ordered a judicial settlement conference be held between the parties to give them an opportunity to resolve their differences.
The county claims Sunset Drive has been on the county road map and county road list since the late 1990’s and that Manning cannot legally keep a gate across it but Manning denies the county’s claim asserting that Sunset Drive, a nine foot wide gravel road, is a private drive which runs through his property and belongs to him.
Chancellor Thurman sided with County Attorney Hilton Conger who contended that Sunset Drive is a county road based in part on a subdivision plat signed by Manning on July 21, 2004 dedicating all streets and alleys on his property to the county. In 2006 Manning also signed a deed of transfer conveying a portion of the subdivided property to his ex-wife which references Sunset Drive as being a county road. She sold her property to Bart Lay in October, 2015.
When asked by Conger Wednesday what he thought he was dedicating on July 21, 2004, Manning responded "the subdivision".
Attorneys for Manning, Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox disputed Conger’s claim stating that Manning had made no public dedication to the county of Sunset Drive nor any right of way dedication and that the DeKalb County Regional Planning Commission approved Manning’s subdivision plat on July 12, 2004 with full knowledge that Sunset Drive was nothing more than a private gravel driveway.
Cripps and Cox asserted that deeds also reveal that Manning reserved an easement unto himself so he could have access to the rear of his property after it was subdivided. They claim no easement would have been necessary if Sunset Drive were already a county road. They also point to the fact that Sunset Drive serves no other property owners, other than Lay, and that there are no school bus or mail routes on the driveway, which consists largely of two strips of gravel with grass growing in between.
Manning testified Wednesday that he and his former wife purchased the 120 acre site in the Belk community in 1990 and that he later developed the driveways now known as Sunset Drive and Hidden Hollow Way but has never sought making them county roads. Manning said he named the driveways himself at the request of the DeKalb County E-911 Board in 1992 and erected road signs as a joke since the driveways only traverse a cow pasture. Manning said he has always maintained the driveways himself and has never asked the county highway department for any gravel or road work on them.
On Monday, the first day of the hearing, Road Supervisor Wallace Butch Agee and his employees Charlie Mai Maxwell, who works in the office and Billy Eudean Pack, a truck driver, testified. Agee and Maxwell said that someone identifying himself as Grant Manning called in March to ask that a truck load of gravel be brought to Sunset Drive. Pack said the gate was there but open and he delivered the load of gravel and spread it as far as it would go down Sunset Drive. Manning testified Wednesday that he never made that call asking for the gravel and after it was delivered thought the road department had merely done that as a favor to him.
Manning said he erected the gate on Sunset Drive in May, 2011 to keep drunks and ATV’s off his property and had not before been challenged by the county to remove the gate. When the county commission became aware of it last fall, they voted to instruct Road Supervisor Agee to take the necessary action to have the gate removed. It was taken down in January, 2016 but Manning later erected it again and locked it with a log chain. The gate was again removed earlier this month (August) but Manning has since put it back.
Although Cripps and Cox insist he is not landlocked, Bart Lay, the adjoining property owner testified Monday and again Wednesday that the gate has forced him to access his land through a field off Allen Bend Road and that it has hampered his efforts to rent a trailer on the property and farm land.
In making his ruling on the temporary injunction, Chancellor Thurman referenced documents signed by Manning apparently either dedicating or acknowledging Sunset Drive as a county road. “Whether he intended to or not he is calling it that,” said Chancellor Thurman.