April 13 2011 12:00 AM

Controversy brews over reopening train track that runs through Old Town

Another Old Town redevelopment — literally a few feet away from the Comfort Station — has a railroad owner angry at local residents for parking on the dormant train track.

Mark Dobronski, president of the Adrian and Blissfield Rail Road Co., which owns the stretch of track that passes through the heart of Old Town, said residents have complained about receiving tickets from his company for parking their cars on or near the track. Dobronski would not comment on how much the tickets were for, but reports from local residents and employees say they were more than $100. But what if they don’t pay?

"It’s up to a judge to enforce (the fine)," he said.

The track is being redeveloped for Friedland Industries, which abuts the track, to haul recyclable material out of town. Initial estimates are the track will be used once a week or every other week and trains will be moving at less than 5 miles per hour.

“I’ve had it with people calling me up over there. They seem to think it’s a parking lot. It’s not,” he said. “If people want to park there, they’re fools. I’ve received plenty of it from people who seem to think they own that rail.”

Kristin Armbruster, who lives in a first-floor apartment behind the Fish Ladder Tattoo Co. at 302 E. Grand River Ave., said she hasn’t gotten a ticket but knows her upstairs neighbor has. The neighbor declined to comment.

Eric Jenks, owner of the tattoo shop, said the railroad company started ticketing about a month ago and each was more than $100.

“They said we can’t park within 50 feet of the tracks, but that parking lot over there (Cesar E. Chavez Plaza, formerly Lot 56) is about 15 feet away,” Jenks said.

Brittney Hoszkiw, executive director of the Old Town Commercial Association, said people were parking on the track because they were under the impression that the track were unused.

“They have been perceived as abandoned for so long,” Hoszkiw said. “I don’t think people did it maliciously. It’s a common practice around the neighborhood.”

She said the OTCA has been sending out letters to residents saying they shouldn’t park on the track any longer.

As for the reuse of the tracks, Armbruster said it’s “going to change my life quite a bit.” She has been living in her apartment for one-and-a-half years and has concerns about the noise.

Kathy Holcomb, owner of Absolute Gallery at 307 E. Grand River Ave., said she vaguely remembers when the track was used last about eight years ago. Her main concern is the dust that could be kicked up as the train runs through.

“I don’t remember it being that difficult when it ran in the early days. Just the dust — other than that I don’t remember it affecting me much at all,” she said.

Dobronski said it will cost about $500,000 to rehabilitate the roughly one mile of track. Reconstruction efforts will begin “sometime this summer” and take about two weeks to complete. Until then, he wants people to keep their cars off the track.

“I’m tired of the people and the bitching up there. If they don’ t want it (reopened), then buy it,” he said. “We’re trying to help the economy, but darn if I got a bunch of people who want to lay down in front of the tracks.”