Flier creates controversy on eve of Firefly Farms vote in North Stonington

North Stonington - State Attorney General George Jepsen issued a statement Monday afternoon in response to a flier circulated by Firefly Farms owner Van Brown that implies Jepsen is supporting Brown in a land dispute.

Both Van Brown and his attorney, Richard Dixon, said the implication was unintentional, and that the attorney general's office has not made an agreement with any party.

The attorney general's statement was sent out late Monday afternoon, less than a day before residents will vote on whether to accept Brown's settlement offer, which he made in February.

Brown is offering the town $100,000 in exchange for yielding its claim on his property at 96 Button Road, on the condition that $50,000 of it be spent on open space elsewhere in town.

The offer - and the referendum question, which uses the same language - stipulates that it is the state's decision whether the $50,000 meets any "charitable intent" encumbrance on the land, as written in its original deed more than 30 years ago.

In a two-page mailer Brown sent out that lists the pros of accepting the settlement and warns of the consequences voting "no," there is one line that implies that Jepsen "agrees" that any charitable intent is met by the $50,000 in open space funds.

This section of the flier appears to lay out a chronology of what would happen should the town vote "yes" - that the Brown family would take the town's decision to the attorney general and then, pending his agreement, to a court.

Jepsen's statement says that despite "any statement to the contrary," the outcome of the referendum won't guarantee any particular action or position from his office or a court.

"Further," the statement reads, "any suggestion that my office has reached any agreement about future use of this property is simply false … In fact, the transaction described in the referendum has not yet been presented to my office for review."

Dixon, Brown's attorney, said he did not see a final copy of the text before it was mailed out, but that he had seen earlier versions of it.

"If that's the way it came out and he felt that way … we certainly had no intention of indicating at any time that the attorney general had made up his mind," Dixon said.

He later added, "The intention of the flier was to point out to the people that we want the attorney general to understand what the citizens of North Stonington want."

An email from Brown's wife, Beth Tillman, said that she and her family were "merely stating the possible scenario of what we would do with the outcome of the vote."

"The word IF would have been a good addition to the sentence to which [the attorney general] has taken objection," she wrote.

The legal battle that has been waged since 2011 concerns Brown and his family, who raise rare livestock organically on their farm there; the state's interest in the land's decades-old designation as open space in the event of the demise of the Norwich YMCA, which used to run its Camp Anderson there; and town officials' contention that the property may belong to North Stonington.

The town is now seeking to claim 35 acres of the property, which both parties agree have a valid "reverter clause" on it, and place restrictions on the other 90 acres. All three of the town's selectmen have said that no matter the outcome of the referendum, the issue will be taken to court. Residents can vote from noon to 8 p.m. today at Town Hall.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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