Former YMCA camp purchased by Mystic family

North Stonington - A Mystic family has purchased the former YMCA Camp Anderson for $345,000 and plans to use the 135-acre property for a home and organic farm, possibly including an aquaculture venture.

The Young Men's Christian Association of Southeastern Connecticut Inc. sold the property to the 96 Button Road Trust with Van Brown as trustee, according to records filed Friday in Town Hall. The name refers to the address of the former summer camp that hosted hundreds of local youths for swimming, camping, hiking and other recreational activities.

Brown said Monday the family is very much interested in organic and no-kill farming and would like to become the second "humane farm" in Connecticut, "following in the footsteps of Footstep Farm" in Mystic. Brown said the family is impressed with the Denison Farm Market in Mystic and wants to follow the model of those organic farmers.

In a written statement signed by Brown, his wife, Beth Tillman, and their son, Dugan Tillman-Brown, they also said they may try "aquaponics," using the water in which fish are grown to fertilize vegetables. Brown is the former aquaculture teacher in the agricultural science program at Ledyard High School.

Beth Tillman and Dugan Tillman-Brown plan to attend school on no-till agriculture, sustainable farming and no-kill agriculture, Brown said. Dugan Tillman-Brown plans to make the property his home.

The family has been interested in the property since shortly after the financially strapped YMCA closed both the camp and the YMCA facility on Main Street in Norwich. At the time, YMCA officials said debts totaled about $1 million, including mortgages held by Chelsea Groton Bank, Eastern Federal Bank and the state Department of Labor, which had placed a payroll tax lien on both properties.

Attorney Mark Block, who negotiated for Chelsea Groton Bank and also had helped the defunct YMCA board market the property, said some of the money paid for the camp went toward the Chelsea Groton Bank mortgage and some for the Department of Labor lien. Block said Eastern Federal Bank agreed to release its lien on the North Stonington property without a payment, and the Department of Labor also will release its lien, along with Chelsea Groton Bank.

The releases had not yet been filed by Monday in the town clerk's office. Also, Block said all debtors will keep their liens on the Main Street, Norwich facility, which remains in limbo.

The family's statement cited support for the purchase from the defunct YMCA's board, the two banks, the state Department of Labor and from the town of North Stonington.

But town officials were taken by surprise by the sale, First Selectman Nicholas Mullane said. North Stonington claims there is a clause on the property deed that called for at least part of the camp land to be reverted to the town if the YMCA ceased to use it for a summer camp. Apparently, the town released that clause in a 1989 town meeting when the YMCA sought a mortgage, but Mullane said legal documents show that the release was erroneous and perhaps invalid.

Attorney Richard Dixon of Mystic, representing the Tillman-Brown family, said the release is on the land records, and he believes the family has clear title to the property. Mullane said he plans to refer the matter to Town Attorney Frank Eppinger, who was not available to comment Monday. The town also had forwarded the documents to the state Attorney General at one point during the lengthy purchase process.

A series of obstacles slowed the sale from 2009 to now - including the death of local attorney Bill Hescock, who represented the family. The delays left the property vacant and unguarded for two years.

c.bessette@theday.com

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