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Old Lyme blamed for letting problems fester on Tantummaheag Road

Old Lyme — A homeowner who argues Tantummaheag Landing is his property and the neighbors who argue it is public space agree that the town's inaction is stoking tension in the serene, upscale neighborhood leading to the Connecticut River.

Those on both sides of the argument allege hostility from the other side when attempts are made to drive down the access point to the landing.

George Frampton, who owns 12 and 19 Tantummaheag Road with wife Carla D'Arista, conducted a title search more than three months ago that they say proves the town has no legitimate ownership claims on the spit of land between their two properties popularly known as the Town Landing.

He said the town has been sitting on the information since July without doing anything to back up its contention that it owns the property or to counter what he described as his own definitive claim on the land.

While Frampton told selectmen he will allow pedestrians on the land, he draws the line at vehicles. He said the main traffic these days at the landing is from residents of Tantummaheag Road and the adjacent Coult Lane who are driving down there "just to make a point" that they have the right to use it.

"I can't say that's illegitimate," he said. "But it's hostile. They're angry. They yell at us. They can be threatening. And they're doing it because the status of the property is unclear."

Frampton said the onus is on the town to come up with documentation to disprove his 16-page document outlining the history and ownership of the property starting in the late 17th century.

"We think it's pretty definitive, and if the town or their lawyers think it's not definitive, then tell us why," he said. "Tell us what the reasons for that is. There isn't a document on record that shows the town ever had any interest, ownership interest, in this property since 1674. None. Zero."

Characterizing the neighbors as being on "a jihad," Frampton said one of the people who drove down the landing recently yelled aggressively at his family while pulling away. The word jihad refers to the struggle against the enemies of Islam.

When selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal asked if she heard him correctly, he confirmed that she had.

"When your wife and your daughter are out there planting plants and every 15 or 20 minutes people come down the road in a car to prove they can drive past your feet and drive into the wetlands, I call that a jihad," he said. "Yes, I do."

Coult Lane resident Sheila Riffle told selectmen she blames the town, not Frampton and D'Arista, for the property dispute that is roiling "an otherwise beautiful, peaceful neighborhood."

"Unfortunately I feel that is happening because of your inaction, and I would really like to know how this is going to be resolved and what actions the Board of Selectmen will be taking so that it gets resolved with evidence, with documentation, so we can all just live happily ever after," Riffle said.

Tantummaheag Road resident Paul Reid said he drove down to the landing this weekend to scope it out in preparation for the selectmen's meeting when D'Arista came down from her home "yelling and screaming" at him to get off the private property.

Historical context

According to assessor's records, Frampton and D'Arista 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.

The issue of public access at the landing has been discussed going back more than 10 months in front of the Harbor Management Commission and Board of Selectmen. The selectmen in February approved a recommendation to create a designated parking area for two vehicles; install signage marking the entrance, closing time and parking area; and specify that no changes to the vegetation could be made.

Some of the resident concerns expressed in multiple meetings this month revolved around why the signs still have not been installed.

Frampton told The Day earlier this month that it was the town's insistence on creating two parking spaces that spurred him and his wife to do the title search and historical research to find out if the town actually had claim to the property.

First Selectman Tim Griswold said at the past two selectmen's meetings that he received the document from Frampton in July. This week, he said he passed it along to town attorney Jack Collins of New London-based Suisman Shapiro for review "probably three or four weeks" ago.

Griswold maintains the town owns the property but said he is waiting for the lawyer's conclusion before taking any action.

A Sept. 20 letter from Collins to Frampton, which Frampton said he received an hour before selectmen convened the same day, was read into the record at the meeting.

"Quite obviously, the town's position is contrary to that expressed in your memorandum," Collins wrote of the title search document. "That said, I do appreciate your willingness to share copies of your source materials so that we may continue our review of your claims."

The letter concluded with an invitation to meet with Frampton and a statement that the attorney trusts Frampton and those representing him "will make no efforts to dissuade visitors seeking to enjoy Town Landing as we attempt to amicably resolve this matter."

Frampton said he had a meeting scheduled with Collins for Tuesday. He did not return a call Wednesday for comment.

Griswold on Monday said he doesn't believe signage is critical at this point. He told selectmen a sign indicating it's a town landing might be helpful "in case somebody doesn't know where it is." He added it might make sense to let the process play out with the town attorney, "and if there's still opposite conclusions, then we'd have to figure out what to do about that."

Riffle, a resident since 2016, thanked the selectmen for renewing her interest in town government. She cited concerns she'd discovered in just the two meetings she'd attended: from the timing of the meetings, which occur at 4 p.m. when many people are working, to the fact that Griswold doesn't wear a mask at those meetings despite signs on the town website and in the building itself saying masks are required by order of the selectmen.

"I have so many questions, and shame on me for not being involved in the past," she said. "That's going to change because we deserve to know what is going on."

e.regan@theday.com

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