Something there is that doesn't love a wall.
Unable to resolve a $400 dispute over alley access, local developer Lewis Heaster and the owners of Billy's Tap Room and Grill may be headed for a costly legal battle.
Heaster, who bought the shops in 2013, recently began putting the alley on his property to different use. In fact, he insists that it's not an alley at all; it's an eight-space parking lot with tables, chairs and landscaping. He doesn't want any delivery trucks barging through there anymore, so he closed off access to the owners of Billy's Tap Room, Doug and Lillian Rand — with some exceptions.
Heaster said the Rands can use the "alley" for $400 per year, for trash and propane gas purposes only — no more employee parking or vendor deliveries. The agreement can be renewed for the next 15 years; or Heaster can terminate it at any time if, for example, Rands' vendors or employees are caught using the alley twice in a month.
But the Rands believe they have a right to use Heaster's alley, which is at the rear of the adjacent Gaslamp Shoppes, with "no strings attached" as previous owners of the restaurant have done for decades. They refuse to sign the agreement.
"The Rands want something for nothing. It is that simple."
Jake Kaney, Lewis Heaster's attorney
“We don’t mind paying a maintenance fee," Doug Rand said. "It’s not the money.”
Heaster's original request for alley access was $1,000 a year. Since May, he has dropped the price to $400.
"My client has moved miles, while yours has barely moved an inch, even though my client has clear deeds to his property," Kaney, stated in a letter to the Rands' lawyer, Kirk Bauer. "I have done what I could to help these people avoid costly litigation. My client’s offer is more than reasonable."
Kaney said the Rands were being bad neighbors because they had not followed the conditions for using Heaster's alley, "thus causing a disruption" to the other Gaslamp Shoppes (one of which is run by Rand's nephew, as Heaster pointed out to the Observer.) "That, of course, is in addition to the cost of the wear and tear on my client’s improved parking lot," Kaney said.
Doug Rand said they were willing to abide by Heaster's conditions, though some employees and vendors still mistakenly used the alley.
“We’re trying to be patient, and we’re trying to be good neighbors," Rand said. "We just need our access like we’ve had it for years.”
'Something for nothing'
Doug Rand believes that Heaster wishes to devalue Billy's so that Heaster can buy it for a lower price in the future. The Rands have offered to sell it to Heaster in the past for $2.5 million, though no deal was made.
Although Rand said he has not listed the property, "anything is for sale. Not that we want to sell it, but if the price is right, we’d be crazy not to."
Meanwhile, Heaster told the Observer he believes that the Rands have approached the press in an attempt to resolve the alley issue and make it easier to sell Billy's.
As for litigation, the Rands are "seeing how it goes." They have temporarily solved the trash and recycling situation with smaller bins that fit through their property's narrow front alley, and St. James Episcopal Church has allowed them to carve a hole in the fence between their properties for propane tank access.
“Without the church, we would be closed," Doug Rand said.