North Stonington reveals competing offers to settle Button Road dispute

North Stonington - The Board of Selectmen has released the two competing offers it received last month in an effort to settle the issue of who owns the former YMCA property at 96 Button Road.

Van Brown, who raises organic hogs on Firefly Farms with his family on the property, purchased the land in 2011, sparking the beginning of a convoluted legal battle that stems from decades-old semantics.

When the old Norwich YMCA purchased the property in 1972 from its Norwich landowners, it did so with the condition that the property would return to the town if the YMCA ever ceased to use it.

The Norwich YMCA went bankrupt and shuttered for good in 2009. But in 1988, in order to swap some of the land for a swampy piece next door for the YMCA's construction of a pond, the town voted to release the so-called "reverter" clause.

In the past couple of years, the Tillman-Brown family and town officials have engaged in a quiet battle - largely discussed in executive sessions during Board of Selectmen meetings - over whether this release was legally valid or not, and more broadly, who is the rightful owner of the land at 96 Button Road.

In a Feb. 1 letter, Brown's attorney John F.X. Peloso Jr. of Stamford said Brown would pay a $100,000 settlement to the town with the expectation that the town would dedicate some or all of the money to "open space." In return, the town was asked to acknowledge in writing and file in its land records that it has released its claim on the Button Road property.

The offer, which the own did not accept, also asked that the town remove a forest conservation easement on the 90-acre parcel, which restricts development while possibly allowing for farm activity.

A letter from North Stonington Town Attorney Rob Avena dated three weeks later countered that while the town is willing to discuss the forest conservation easement, the town should own the 35 acres the YMCA received in the 1989 land swap. The letter said the town is also seeking a right of way for pedestrian access to the 35 acres across the 90-acre parcel, and that the 90 acres should be restricted to "farm use only" with no further subdivision.

First Selectman Nick Mullane said the board made an order at its regular meeting Tuesday night to execute the intent of Avena's letter. Mullane offered no further comment due to pending litigation.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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