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Judge to rule on continuing fence dispute between Preston neighbors

KINGWOOD — Preston Judge Steve Shaffer will rule later on a motion for summary judgment in the latest lawsuit over whether a Kingwood councilman can use an alley by his home.

Dick and Iris Shaffer filed suit against their Tunnelton Street neighbors, Robert “Bobby” and Robin Goodwin, in 2018.

This is the third court action filed by the Shaffers in this matter. In 2016, they sued the Goodwins, saying a fence the latter built alongside an alley between their properties kept the Shaffers from accessing the rear of their own property. In May 2017, the Shaffers voluntarily dismissed the case.

In 2015, the Shaffers sought an injunction to force removal of the fence. The court ruled for the Goodwins.

At Monday’s hearing, attorney Buddy Turner, representing the Goodwins, referred back even further, to a 1970 case filed by the Kingwood Methodist Church to ascertain who can use the alley.

The court ruled then that the alley, which runs from Tunnelton Street to Price, is private and available to anyone whose property fronts on Brown Avenue. One witness Monday testified it has never been open all the way through.

On Monday, Ellen White, whose parents’ home shared a side yard with the Shaffers and who worked for 30 years across the street, and Jimmy Maier, who grew up Kingwood and has known the Shaffers 42 years, testified for the Shaffers.

Both said they recalled seeing the Shaffers park cars in the alley in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

The Shaffers’ attorney, Alex Goldberg, said only the time from 1973 to 1999, when the Goodwins bought their property, matters in the argument. The witnesses provided evidence the Shaffers used the alley continuously for 10 years, Goldberg said.

There was also testimony that Shaffer maintained the alley in those decades. Robin Goodwin disputed that, saying she and two friends hid in the undergrowth when they were teens being pursued by city police for jumping the fence at the city pool.

When they bought the property, it was unkempt, both Robin and Bobby Goodwin said. When Mr. Goodwin began clearing the brush in 2000, Shaffer asked if he could use the alley to access the rear of his property, they said.

And, Robin Goodwin said, when they built a fence, Shaffer asked them to put it further back from the property line, so he could continue to use the alley. They did.

The cooperation ended in 2015, the Goodwins said, when someone bought the Hudgins property on High Street and hired a contractor to install a pool. Dirt was dumped on her property where it would erode into their in-ground pool, Robin Goodwin said.

The Goodwins said Shaffer talked with the other property owner and said a survey was needed to show the property line. But the city refused to act, they said.

Jim Lobb, who was mayor until 2013, testified that Shaffer disputed the Goodwins’ authority over the property in the past, and the city always referred him to the 1970 case.

Robin Goodwin also said she didn’t recall seeing the Shaffers park in the alley, during her years growing up in Kingwood.

At an August hearing on the motion, Dick Shaffer testified that the former owners of the Goodwin property, the Fretwells, gave him permission to use the alley when he moved into his home in 1973. Frank and Freda Fretwell are deceased.

A trial is set for Jan. 21 on the civil case.