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3 Middlesex families in heated land dispute

June 21, 2018 News Extra

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This area of land at the bottom of Oakwood Drive in Middlesex Township has been at the heart of a dispute between property owners and the township.

MIDDLESEX TWP — The tract of land along Ferguson Lane isn't much — a 50-by-400-foot strip that's mostly covered by grass.

Yet at the center of that tract, a roughly 900-sqaure-foot space has cost five year's worth of time and tens of thousands of dollars for three township families.

Ferguson Lane is a private driveway off Route 8, with the Tisdale farm to the north, and homes owned by the Bonifate and Pracht families to the south. Oakwood Drive, which is in the Dwellington plan, ends at the unowned land. There sits the space in contention, adorned by mailboxes and, most recently, spray painted boundaries, railroad ties and orange barrels.

The farmer who owned the property around the land subdivided it in 1959, with that piece intended to become a public road. The township never adopted it, however, and the land has turned into a green space in between property lines.

This area of land at the bottom of Oakwood Drive in Middlesex Township behind the white painted line has been at the heart of a dispute between property owners and the township.

The land dispute began in 2013, when Jeff Bonifate and Craig Pracht asked township supervisors to close the end of Oakwood Drive to prevent unlicensed vehicles from accessing the Tisdale property on Ferguson Lane.

Bonifate said at the time that he had been maintaining the grass in the area, which runs into his front yard, but said the Tisdales told him to stop cutting it because the property belonged to them.

Township solicitor Mike Hnath told the families at a June 2013 supervisors meeting that it is not the township's duty to decide who owns the land. Then-township manager Scot Fodi told the families that the dispute could be settled in court.

The Bonifates and Prachts did just that, suing the Tisdales and the township over the land, for which a title had never been recorded in Butler County. The township lost claim of the land in 1980, documents state.

The dispute has lingered in court for five years, with a tenative, oral agreement being reached earlier this year. However, the document lacks signatures, leading to questions and disputes over how the agreement can be enforced, and who technically has access to the strip of land. That dispute has lead to railroad ties, orange barrels and spray paint being used to define the property, which has become the center of the ongoing dispute.

Read the full story in the Butler Eagle.

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