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Tantummaheag Landing remains unmarked as public land amid property dispute

Old Lyme — To look at Tantummaheag Landing, you wouldn't know it was public land. And according to the adjacent property owner, it isn't.

Amid continuing allegations from residents that visitors are being denied access to the unmarked riverfront access point, first Selectman Tim Griswold this week said it's time to put ownership issues at Tantummaheag Landing "on the front burner."

The statement came after more than nine months of discussion in front of the Harbor Management Commission and the Board of Selectmen.

Three Coult Lane residents at Tuesday's selectmen's meeting asked members why signs identifying Tantummaheag Landing as public property have not been put back up following their removal almost a year ago.

According to assessor's records, Carla D'Arista and George Frampton purchased the 3.67 acre property identified as 12 Tantummaheag Road last September for $1.15 million, along with a 0.3 acre piece of land identified as 19 Tantummaheag Road. The assessor's map treats the area between 12 and 19 Tantummaheag as a town road.

Known as the Town Landing, the less-than-half-acre property was used by colonists to bring salt bales ashore after harvesting the salt marshes of the Connecticut River. It is now used by some residents to launch kayaks and canoes into the river.

Paul Reid, of Coult Lane, said people have been told they have to leave the property because it is private. He described it as "another aggressive tactic" on Frampton's part to claim the previously identified town property as his own.

"I think the town needs to start acting a little bit more aggressive," Reid said. "Put the signs up. Stake the claim that it's town property."

Coult Lane resident Sheila Riffle said she was told by a contractor working on the property that he'd been told not to let people access the water.

"I respectfully responded that until the town provided me with documentation I could not access the property, and that it was actually private property, that respectfully I would continue to access it," she said.

Local contractor Greg Faucher, who identified himself as the home's caretaker, said he has told people not to use the driveway in their vehicles. That's because people have driven into the yard, parked there and congregated near the house.

"A handful of people ruined it for everybody," he said.

The former owner in 2007 floated the idea of swapping more than 12 acres she owned on Mile Creek Road for the small, town-owned parcel. She withdrew the proposal amid backlash from Coult Lane residents who said the trade would increase her waterfront holdings along the Connecticut River while depriving dozens of homeowners, who do not own waterfront property, full access to the river.

Frampton in July submitted a 16-page document to Griswold outlining the history and ownership of the property starting in the late 17th century using title searches and broader historical research. He contends that no deeds until 1951 carved out the landing as separate from 12 and 19 Tantummaheag Road, and that the 1951 deed was based on a "spurious" survey conducted in 1931.

Griswold told the Coult Road residents that he gave the document to town counsel to review, but has not heard back. The town is represented by the Suisman Shapiro law firm of New London.

"I'll speak again to counsel and say this is getting to be an issue, a bigger issue," Griswold said. "We need to get that on the front burner and get it figured out."

The first selectman said Old Lyme continues to maintain that the land is town property. He also brought up the idea of a "prescriptive easement."

A prescriptive easement results when a court finds that use of someone else's property has been "open, visible, continuous and uninterrupted for fifteen years," according to state statute.

Frampton said over the phone Friday that his concern is with parking.

"From the beginning, our position has always been that we wanted to allow pedestrians, people who walk down there, brought their dogs, jogged," Frampton said.

But he said those who park there to unload their kayaks are a threat to the safety of those in his home as well as to the environment.

Frampton's document states that officials in 1701 made a deal with the property owner at the time to allow the town a right of way to the landing. It happened when the owner put up a fence around a separate property that turned out to encroach on town-owned land.

Frampton argued the right of way established in 1701 doesn't exist anymore but, if it did, it would probably be on his neighbor's property.

The Harbor Management Commission in January voted to keep a boulder placed by Frampton in the center of the narrow lane leading down to the water to keep cars from getting too close to the water.

But Frampton said he decided to research the ownership of the land when the town refused to prohibit parking completely.

"Right now I think we need to talk to the town because we're sort of operating in a different universe since the town's own documents show that we own it. And there is no right of way," he said.

Frampton said he has not had conversations with any officials since he submitted the document several months ago. He received a voicemail message from Griswold following Tuesday's meeting but has not spoken to him.

Griswold after Tuesday's meeting told The Day that the conversations about parking had involved two spots "down toward the water." He said signage discussed would inform people there's private property to the left and the landing to the right.

Frampton said he thinks it unlikely there will be signage installed on what he described as private property.

"This is not really in the end about access," he said. He estimated 90 to 95% of the people that use the area are pedestrians, and he will continue to allow them on the property.

"The access issue is: Can people use it as if it were a public way as long as they respect our privacy? And the answer is yes," he said.

Frampton acknowledged the remainder of the visitors to Tantummaheag Landing, who he said use it "a few times a year" for kayaking, will be angry that they have to find another place to get to the water.

He said he's seen real estate listings over the past 20 years for houses on Coult Lane that advertise deeded access to the river through the landing, which he likened to real estate fraud, based on his contention that its his private property.

Riffle, one of the Coult Lane residents, said her concern is that doing nothing sends the message the town is unsure who owns the land. She said she purchased her lot in part because of its proximity to the water access and that she, as a resident, would expect officials "to continue to behave as if the town owns it."

The town's two selectmen, Mary Jo Nosal and Chris Kerr, said they would like to see a letter sent to Frampton maintaining town ownership and reiterating the need to allow public access.

e.regan@theday.com

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