A D.C. Superior Court judge has ordered Washington restaurant owner Ulysses G. (Blackie) Auger to remove the large metal caps he had bolted into the private street in front of his home to slow down traffic.
Judge Paul R. Webber III also ruled that Auger is obliged to reimburse his neighbors for more than $12,000 it cost them to hire a lawyer and a traffic expert so they could take Auger and their dispute to court.
Auger's neighbors on Normanstone Terrace NW had asked him to remove the obstacles -- which they complained were a hazard and a nuisance -- shortly after they were installed in April 1978. When Auger refused, the neighbors went to court.
In an eight-page decision, Webber agreed that the obstacles -- called traffic markers -- were a hazard to automobiles and passengers, as well as children on bicycles, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.
"I went by them twice a day and never damaged my car," Auger said in a telephone interview. Auger, who said he installed the markers to deter speeding motorists, declined to comment further except to say that he would "definitely appeal" the court decision.
"It is disheartening to realize what you have to go through to protect your rights," said Samuel Halperin, one of Auger's neighbors who joined in the lawsuit.
"It makes you think that if you have to run to court every time you have a neighborly dispute you almost live in a jungle," said Halperin, who described his court experience as "frustratingly expensive and annoying."
Last spring Auger installed two rows of traffic markers at either end of the portion of Normanstone Terrace that runs in front of his home. Normanstone Terrace is jointly owned and maintained by the residents because it is too narrow to qualify as a city street.
Auger maintained that the markers were designed to "protect persons and property from traffic on Normanstone Terrace," Webber said in his decision. But Webber, who heard evidence in the case during a four-day nonjury trial, found that the metal devices were a "nuisance" to Auger's neighbors.
In order to reach their homes, Webber said the neighbors had to drive their cars over the markers and when they do, passengers and drivers are jostled and vehicles are battered. The markers are almost 4 inches high, 12 inches wide, and unavoidable when driving along Normanstone Terrace.
Two neighbors tripped when the markers were covered with debris, such as leaves, Webber said the evidence showed. Taxi cabs have refused to drive over the markers -- leaving their passengers to walk to their homes -- and noise has increased when vehicles, particularly trucks, bounce over the markers, Webber said in his decision. The judge's decision was filed in Superior Court yesterday.
Judge Webber decided that Auger, by intentionally installing the two rows of obstacles without consulting his neighbors, had unreasonably interfered with their use of their property.
Webber said the damage to their personal property, and the inconvenience and hazard to their safety outweighed Auger's interest in reducing the flow of traffic.
Auger's neighbors said they expect the obstacles to be removed within 20 days.
In addition to ordering Auger to remove the traffic markers, Webber said in his decision that all damage caused by removal must be repaired within 20 days.
Webber also prohibited Auger from installing any other street obstacles that would create a nuisance for his neighbors.