Woodbridge man who voluntarily mowed town land faces threat of legal action

WOODBRIDGE >> Residents are coming to the defense of a local man who mowed the overgrown grass near the town pool and instead of a “thank you” from the town received a legal threat should he ever mow the area again.

Roger Sherman, who lives at 5 Fairview Road, across the street from the property, said he didn’t expect any recognition but thought he was helping to make the area presentable for the pool’s opening.

He used his own commercial mower.

He said he was shocked to receive a letter from Town Attorney Gerald T. Weiner that begins: “It has come to my attention that you have taken upon yourself to enter the property known as Country Club of Woodbridge and to mow various parts of that property.”

The letter states that although the town has made the property available for hiking and bike riding, “mowing or other unauthorized activity” are not permitted.

The letter ends by saying if Sherman were to mow again, the town would “pursue all available legal remedies.”

Sherman, who is politically active, said he’s being targeted because he’s unpopular with those in power.

“They haven’t been happy with me,” Sherman said.

He said other residents do volunteer work such as mowing on town property all the time without threat, and that groups have worked on beautifying, landscaping, cleaning and even painting at the Country Club of Woodbridge property.

Last year Sherman quietly rebuilt the waterfall feature at the entrance to the club, buying the liner, pipe, pump and stones out of his own pocket.

Weiner denies that Sherman was singled out and said if anyone else is caught performing unauthorized activities on town property, they’ll get a letter too because it is a liability to the town.

He said Board of Selectmen or first selectman permission is needed for a person to work on town property, whether they’re using equipment or not.

Sherman said residents pitching in should be covered under the town’s standard liability insurance.

Phyllis Genel, who was chairwoman of the town’s Golf Commission before it was disbanded last year, said she thinks long grass is more of a liability than Sherman mowing because it means more ticks and more danger to hikers.

Genel said she has worked on the property’s garden and a group extensively cleaned the pool area last year.

No one got special permission, she said.

“I don’t even know how Roger could mow it, it’s so long,” she said, also noting he had the best of intentions.

Martha German, who also lives across from the property, said of Sherman, “I really felt he deserved thanks for volunteering to get the place looking presentable.”

German said she has been part of work groups there without town “permission” and has never been told it was against the rules.

German said if the town had a problem with the mowing it should have given him a call rather than, “a threat of legal action.”

The town doesn’t seem to care about the property that’s been mired in controversy for several years, she said.

Sherman, who is a member of the pool, used the mower the week before Memorial Day to cut the grass near the first green and clubhouse so pool users would benefit. He’s mowed the property before.

Sherman said it’s also common all over Woodbridge for those not employed by the town to regularly use chain saws on walking trails, mow town-owned areas, and do other volunteer work.

Weiner said no one has been identified as doing that without permission.

Sherman spends most of his work week in New York City, so he has little free time here. He loves the country setting in Woodbridge, as well as the undeveloped country club property that was a golf course until this year, he said.

Most of his political outcry has been over the fate of the Country Club of Woodbridge property where he mowed.

The town bought the Country Club of Woodbridge property in 2009 for $7 million after the owners went bankrupt. The town tried to run the golf course, but it failed financially, as did a contract with another golf company that ran it through last season.

The future of the property is a hot button issue in town and was front and center during the last two elections.

Some want to keep it as open space, some want it as a recreation area and others want to see a chunk of the parcel developed to generate income for the town.

In exploring the options, former First Selectwoman Ellen Scalettar, who left office recently after the town’s May 1 elections, had called for proposals and one came from developer Toll Brothers for housing, including active adult housing.

Sherman is among a group who perceived Scalettar was lobbying for the unpopular Toll Brothers plan behind closed doors. She has vehemently denied that is the case.

But he formed a group, Woodbridge Alliance, to rally residents, and showed up during the season a few years ago with a truck plastered with anti-Toll Brothers sentiment and lines such as “Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” referring to the land, and “Say No to Toll, Preserve our Town.”

Weiner said the issue of doing work on town property was raised a few weeks ago in a general sense by Scalettar. Weiner looked into it and told her it isn’t OK — with or without the use of heavy equipment — because of liability issues.

Not long after the conversation with Scalettar, Sherman was identified as a mower who didn’t get permission, Weiner said, and so he was sent a letter.

Sherman took his gripe over treatment by the town to his Woodbridge Alliance Facebook page for feedback, under the heading: “NO GOOD DEED SHALL GO UNPUNISHED.”

He wrote about how residents have long helped the Recreation Department prepare for the pool opening. “We have raked, weeded, planted flowers, mowed grass and painted chairs,” he wrote.

Sherman received overwhelming support on Facebook, with some even calling for Weiner’s resignation.

Among reactions on his page:

• “After spending a beautiful afternoon at the pool yesterday with my daughter and granddaughter, it is sad to read about such a petty concern by the town!! LET US ENJOY the summer!!! p.s. I have lived in this town for 44 years!!!!”

• “ Find out from the town attorney how much of an indemnity bond would be required for the “Woodbridge Mowing Club” to use the property for meeting, demonstrations and practicing their art”