Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, neighbors settle road dispute

Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and his neighbors settled a bitter legal dispute over the private road they share just hours before trial was set to begin Tuesday, attorneys for both sides confirmed.

The deal settles a years-long case in which the nation's longest-tenured college football coach and his wife faced claims that their extensive efforts to guard their privacy came at the expense of the three other families living along Saddle Club Road outside Iowa City.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz brings his team onto the field for their game against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017.

Neighbors sued after the couple refused to join their homeowners' association, ignored a $9,500 assessment for road repairs, and erected privacy fencing, trees and landscaping along the road in a shared easement.

Ferentz — who has long been Iowa's highest-paid public employee and is expected to earn $5.2 million this year — was expected to testify during the trial, which could have tarnished his nice-guy image.

Details of the settlement weren't released. But attorney Adam Tarr, who represents the neighbors and their homeowners association, said the deal calls for the parties to dismiss the litigation within 30 days and record new association bylaws and property agreements governing their relationship.

"Our clients are happy with the result and look forward to working with the Ferentzes instead of against them," Tarr said. The neighbors include a prominent developer and a star university radiation oncologist.

Mark Roberts, an attorney for the Ferentzes, said his clients were also pleased, adding: "The neighbors will all be glad to resolve this matter without a trial."

Tarr had argued in a pre-trial court filing that the Ferentzes were "literally free-riders" because they hadn't paid anything since 2009 for maintaining the road they drive daily and share with their neighbors.

This Tuesday, Jan . 9, 2018, photo shows the entrance to Saddle Club Road in Iowa City, Iowa. The surface of the private road and who pays for its maintenance is one of many disputes that has pitted Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz and his wife Mary against the three other families who live along it. A trial is scheduled for next month over whether trees and landscaping items installed by the Ferentzes along the road amount to a trespass violation. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley)

The attorney noted that over two decades, neighbors had sought to subdivide their property, to create a turnabout to protect children from traffic and asked the couple to honor their 2001 promise to join a homeowner's association to pay for road repairs. Tarr said the Ferentzes treated the requests with "resistance, objection, passive aggression, intimidation, and outright hostility."

The neighbors' 2016 lawsuit contended that the Ferentzes refused to join the association despite having agreed to do so in a 2001 agreement, which settled an earlier dispute over a proposed subdivision. The neighbors also argued that the Ferentzes violated an easement agreement by erecting the fencing, planting evergreen trees and installing landscaping that encroached onto the commonly-owned roadway and nearby utility easement.

The Ferentzes noted they had opposed the 2003 paving of the gravel road, saying it has brought more speeders and "stalkers and gawkers" outside their home. They say that they couldn't be forced to join the association because its scope went beyond what they agreed to in 2001.

A judge ruled in September that the Ferentzes weren't required to join the association. Tuesday's trial was scheduled to determine whether the Ferentzes would be required to remove or trim landscaping and whether the couple should pay damages for any alleged easement violations, including football-related meetings in which many cars would park on the road.

Ferentz had been advised by his predecessor, the legendary football coach Hayden Fry, to live outside Iowa City and "build a moat."

"While they may desire a moat between themselves and the outside world, the Ferentzes cannot appropriate the right-of-way easement, up to and into the Roadway surface — as their personal rampart," Tarr wrote in a filing.

Roberts argued that any alleged violations of the easement didn't interfere with the roadway and couldn't be enforced.