OLD LYME — After nearly two years of disagreement concerning access and ownership of Tantummaheag Landing, a town attorney said Monday that the land is not owned by the Town of Old Lyme – according to preliminary research – but the town’s usage and maintenance of an ancient “highway” on the site could point to continued public access to the right-of-way on the property.
In Sept. 2020 George Frampton and Carla D’Arista purchased 12 and 19 Tantummaheag Road — two parcels that abut Tantummaheag Landing according to town maps. By late fall, the couple began to block public access to the landing’s parking area, first with boulders and later with plantings.
Town residents and officials have claimed the strip of land leading from Tantummaheag Road to the water’s edge is a longtime public point of access to Lord Cove.
In December 2020, Frampton said that public access to the landing was not an issue, but vehicles and parking were a problem. In a Dec. 8 letter to the Harbor Management Commission, he asked that the town consider designating the area “pedestrian only.”
In July 2021, Frampton said he and D’Arista had done an extensive title search that proved they owned the landing and right-of-way, but that access to the landing and right-of-way would not change.
At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, town attorney Jack Collins said preliminary research by counsel showed no evidence that the town has ever had legal title to the property.
“Our preliminary research, and I would emphasize the word ‘preliminary,’ has not found any deeds transferring legal title to the subject property to Old Lyme, which was legally created in 1855, as you all know, or to its predecessor governments,” said Collins.
He said the matter is “legally very complex,” and that his office has engaged an expert consultant to conduct an investigation into the matter, which he said will be concluded within the next 30 days.
“Put simply, we have uncovered no evidence in support of the proposition that Old Lyme owns the subject property by virtue of any such deeds or transfers.”
But, Collins said, the research uncovered substantial evidence that Tantummaheag Landing was established as a highway or a roadway in the 1700s.
“Numerous deeds and maps since that time reflect the existence of the highway. Evidence suggests ongoing public use of the highway and maintenance of the highway by the town,” he said. “There is no evidence uncovered to date which suggests that the town has abandoned such use.”
Collins said that while awaiting the final conclusion from “our very well-regarded expert consultant,” he and his team will have discussions with the Board of Selectmen as to recommended affirmative actions “… that the town should take to enforce its legal rights to Tantummaheag landing.”
At the meeting, First Selectman Tim Griswold said that since the road had “probably been used” since the 1700s, the town should continue to have access.
“I think this road would indicate that there’s a history here and I believe Public Works has been used to clear some of the vegetation down at the landing to enable access. I know the last meeting there was a discussion about that, so I think the Selectmen believe the access should be maintained and we will be working in that regard,” said Griswold.
Reached by phone on Tuesday, Frampton told CT Examiner that he and D’Arista were pleased with the outcome of the research.
“We’re delighted they’ve confirmed that the town doesn’t own the property and that we own the property,” he said. “There’s no evidence that they own it — we own it.”
However, Frampton said that the town survey of the property, dated 1935, is “a fraud.”
“What the town is not yet admitting to the public is that this highway mentioned by counsel — which is the right of way marked out in 1701 — never went across our property at 12 Tantummaheag Road. It went down along the brook to the cove underneath what is now an ice pond and it’s been there for 120 years and also traversed two adjacent neighbors’ properties and probably several others who live up along Tantummaheag Road,” he said.
Frampton said the town has known the location of the highway “for a long time, but certainly since November.”
In addition, Frampton said, the town has the notes from the surveyor admitting that he did not survey the 1701 right-of-way and that he created a “new” right-of-way for the town.
“… they have the notes of the surveyor who surveyed the property at the town’s behest in 1935, admitting that he created a brand new right-of-way to try to get the town to claim it, and [that he] didn’t, specifically didn’t, survey any of the old right-of-way — the 1701 right of way, the real right of way — because he knew the town couldn’t use it anymore, because it had been abandoned for 100 maybe 200 years, but certainly it was of no use anymore,” Frampton said.
Frampton claimed town officials have long known the truth but have set the townspeople against Frampton and D’Arista concerning public access and ownership of the landing.
“The town has been intentionally pitting our neighbors and others in the community against us, knowing that the 1935 survey is a fraud,” Frampton said.
In response to Frampton’s allegations, Griswold told CT Examiner on Tuesday that he disagreed with Frampton on a number of points.
“I think fraud is a strong word on his part,” Griswold said. “In terms of trying to rally the people against him and so forth, I think to the contrary — they have been aggressively dealing with people who have come to the landing and they’ve been planning things, planting things on the landing and generally making it impassable.”
Griswold said that aggressive steps were taken by Frampton and D’Arista, and that the town was not coaching neighbors to “make trouble” with them.
“But I don’t believe for a minute that we have been trying to make the neighbors take a dislike toward them — I think they’ve been doing a good job with that themselves,” said Griswold. “The reports that we hear are that between the placement of plants and equipment and so forth on what had been formerly used as an access to the water is very purposeful, a blocking of that access, and we’ve tried to be patient and get this work done and it’s not yet finished.”
Griswold said the town has maintained the landing by clearing back the vegetation to allow access, but not going as far as making it into a boat landing.
He acknowledged that questions about ownership of the landing became heated at times, but said Frampton’s descriptions of the town’s actions were false.
“They profess to say that pedestrians are welcome — maybe some are, but I think some are not, because we’ve heard that people have been talked to in a rather unfriendly way. I can understand the emotions are high, but any word like ‘fraudulent,’ or ‘we are inciting the neighbors to be mean to them,’ is untrue,” Griswold said.