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Pawcatuck man sues for possession of half of his neighbor's $1.3 million property

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Stonington — A Pawcatuck man has filed a lawsuit claiming he owns half of his new neighbor's $1.3 million waterfront property, because for years he used and cared for a portion of the wooded 10-acre property and the previous owners never stopped him.

Summit Street Development LLC, whose principal is developer Pierce Hall, filed the lawsuit last December seeking possession of 5 acres of property at 335 River Road using the legal concept of adverse possession. The case is pending in New London Superior Court. 

According to state law, adverse possession is a way to acquire the title to a property by an open, visible, hostile and exclusive possession uninterrupted for a 15-year period. It typically does not involve large parcels of land such as this one but more commonly smaller strips of land, such as when someone erects a fence without knowing the exact location of a property line.

Summit Street filed the suit when the land and home on it was owned by various members of the Tyson family. But on March 30, the property was sold for $1.3 million to Luke and Shannon Doherty and Leontine and Albert Pietruska of Darien. The Tysons have since been removed as defendants.

The attorney for the Dohertys and Pietruskas, Gary Greene of Farmington, said Thursday that his clients were aware of the lawsuit when they bought the property. He said he and they do not feel that Hall has a viable claim for the property that can be sustained in court.

The lawsuit states that in 1995, Hall purchased his property at 325 River Road and put the title in the name of his wife, Debra Schlachter. He subdivided the land, built two structures and has lived there since. The land along the lower Pawcatuck River has since been transferred to numerous entities controlled by him and his family and is currently appraised by the town for $966,100. 

The lawsuit states that since 1995, there have been no year-round residents on the 10-acre wooded property next door at 335 River Road, which it describes as "impenetrable forest."

Since 1995, the suits states, Hall has maintained a 5-acre portion of the site that borders his property that, if left overgrown, would block his water views. It states he has cleared brush and dead or damaged tree from the woods, and removed debris that washed up on the shore. 

Hall, who owns a landscape firm, estimates the value of the work at $4,000 a year.

"Mr. Hall has slowly converted this portion into a nature preserve, rife with cultivated flora and fauna, as well as a firepit and a 1,500-foot trail," which he walks on and which his son once rode his ATV along, according to the suit. He has also built deer feeders, installed wildlife cameras and camps on the 5-acre portion of the property. He also says he has maintained a 700-foot-long stone wall along the two properties, at a cost of $10,000. He also parks and stores heavy equipment on a 3-acre portion of the site.

The suit maintains Hall has been a "tremendous steward" of his neighbor's land and has maintained it "at great time and expense."

It also maintains that at all times Hall's use of the land has been open, visible, exclusive and without the consent of the Tyson family, and has continued in excess of the 15 years required under state law for adverse possession.

Hall also alleges that, before the March sale, the Tysons or their agents entered his property and their 5 acres for the purpose of destroying the improvements Hall has made in a attempt to oust him from the land. He said signs and fencing also have been erected and he has been told he is prohibited from entering the property.

He also alleges they have not only trespassed on his property, but the 5 acres that they own and Hall says he has maintained.  He said this has resulted in his family calling police on various occasions. He also stated he has placed heavy machinery on the 5 acres in question to block further destruction of the property. 

The suit asks a judge to either grant title to the 5 acres to Hall or give him an easement to use 3 acres of the parcel in the way he has done for the past 26 years. It also asks that the defendants be ordered to remove any fence or obstruction preventing his access to the property and to pay him damages in excess of $15,000. 

j.wojtas@theday.com

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