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    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Miami Beach Association threatens another lawsuit over beach access in Old Lyme

    A new fence was erected in 2021 along Pond Road west of the intersection with Portland Avenue in the Miami Beach neighborhood of Old Lyme. Now, the beach association wants to close off the rest of the road to public traffic. (Sarah Gordon/The Day file photo)
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    Old Lyme ― Miami Beach Association President Mark Mongillo this week threatened legal action if the town doesn’t give up its access to a private road at the base of the town’s public beach area.

    It’s the latest salvo in a battle going back more than a half century as judges have weighed in on various aspects of the same question: What right does the public have to the association’s private land?

    The issue this time revolves around Pond Road, a private way belonging to the association. It connects two town roads that serve as the hub of Old Lyme’s beach area: Hartford Avenue and Portland Avenue. Mongillo said a 1997 settlement agreement granting the town access to Pond Road isn’t valid because the association president at the time didn’t have approval from membership to enter into the deal.

    Mongillo, who last month suggested the town build its own road parallel to Pond Road and offered to share the cost as a gesture of goodwill, on Thursday told the Board of Selectmen he’s not going to let them ignore him for much longer.

    “The Town's resistance or refusal to come to the table and discuss this may not be seen favorably by any court of law if it comes to that,” he wrote in a Sept. 14 letter. “We are hoping to avoid a lawsuit that I would consider our last and worst-case scenario.”

    The settlement agreement between the beach association and the town acknowledged the association is the “good and record title holder to Pond Road.” It also specified much of the road, including the section between Hartford and Portland avenues, must remain open to traffic.

    After passing out the letter, Mongillo argued the 40 association members living on Pond Road in the affected area deserve their own access to the private enclave just like the rest of the membership.

    “Our members can’t enjoy their grandchildren, can’t enjoy a lot of the things that members inside the association enjoy because of all the traffic. It’s just impossible,” he said.

    First Selectman Tim Griswold questioned whether a few days of bad traffic for a limited number of association members is enough to justify a road project.

    “It just seems like a lot of work and money,” he said.

    Selectman Matt Ward addressed the issue of fairness when he asked if the association has come to an agreement with Keith Henson, an association member with a parking lot on Pond Road who has complained that closing the road to public traffic would shut down his business.

    “To me, you're excluding that guy to make it better for everyone else,” Ward said.

    Mongillo said the permitted parking lot itself is not in the association limits, but Pond Road is the only way to enter and exit.

    “Our charter specifically states that no business will be run out of Miami Beach Association,” he said. “Technically, per our lawyers, he is running the business out of the association because the only way to get to that lot is from a private road.”

    But he said he’s in negotiations with Henson on several “viable” alternatives. Henson could not be reached for comment.

    Mongillo’s letter was also critical of the town for allowing private parking lots, which during the summer fill with people who drive in for the day to use Miami Beach. A judge this year affirmed yet again the public’s right to use the beach free of charge based on a deed restriction put in place in the late 19th century.

    “Similar to the town allowing permitted parking lots to bring in hundreds of beachgoers to bathe on Miami Beach (because of flawed court decision regarding our deed), they continue to use and abuse the taxpayers of the MBA for their own personal gain,” he wrote.

    Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker assured Mongillo that town attorney Jack Collins will be in touch with the association when he returns from vacation next week.

    “We’re not shutting the door,” she said. “Right now there are two lawyers, ours and yours, that are talking.”

    e.regan@theday.com

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