Court: Bedford man can repair road
Founder of church sought to widen, straighten lane
A Bedford County man who founded the Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary of Earth Religion will not be permitted to widen or straighten the road serving his Mann Township properties, according to a opinion issued by the Pennsylvania Superior Court last week.
However, Orren P. Whiddon and his church may make repairs and maintain the road leading to the 200-acre property that, without an easement for the road, would be landlocked.
A three-judge panel in its ruling upheld a decision by Bedford County Judge Travis W. Livengood issued earlier this year that stated “the location and size of the private lane shall be limited to its current state, excepting necessary repairs and maintenance.”
The 20-foot-wide road in question serves a home owned by Whiddon on one parcel of land and the eight parcels of land comprising the church, founded by Whiddon in the early 1990s.
According to the Superior Court, the Four Quarters church is a nonprofit organization that hosts religious ceremonies, music festivals, a winery that produces meade or honey wine, and farm land where crops are grown.
What once was a road to a farm in rural Bedford County near Artemas now serves a church, or as Whiddon described it, a monastery, and includes prayer circles, an Indian sweat lodge, moon services, counseling and workshops on yoga and aromatherapy.
And Whiddon noted in his testimony before the Bedford judge, the church hosts at least one “big event” annually that includes as many as 1,200 cars using the road.
According to the Bedford County judge, the law recognizes that when it comes to easements to landlocked properties, there is a “normal evolution” that recognizes an increased burden on those property holders owning the land abutting the road.
However, he stated, changes in the use of the road that are “unreasonable” and bring about undue burdens on those property owners that “are outside the bounds of the easement rights.”
The road into the landlocked Whiddon property once served only one home, but after Whiddon bought it in 1994, it provided access, not only to the home but to his church property.
The church includes 350 parishioners.
The road into the property was in need of repairs, and that was the issue brought before the Bedford County Court in 2016.
Livengood found that the easement into the property exists, but questions arose over the precise location of the road, its size and “character of use.”
One of the property owners along the road, Luther C. Conrad, contended Whiddon wanted to take some of his ground to straighten and widen the road for commercial purposes as opposed to farming and residential purposes.
This, according to the attorney representing abutting property owners, “would not be considered a normal evolution in light of the rural character of all the properties in question,” stated the Superior Court in outlining the issues.
Conrad testified he had no problem with Whiddon doing repair work on the road but asked that “reasonable” limitations be put on the use of the road — cutting back on some of the traffic going in and out.
The Superior Court opinion, written by Judge Mary Murray disagreed with Whiddon and the church that Livingood “erred by ambiguously limiting the use of the easement.”
Whiddon, when contacted about the Superior Court decision, was not upset.
He noted that the road into his home and the church has been repaired, including widened in some locations.
He feels that the church has won because the judge and the appeals court have confirmed the existence of the easement.
Superior Court Judges Anne E. Lazarus and James G. Colins joined Murray’s opinion.