Breaking Standoff, Old Lyme to Assert Rights in Public Access Dispute

Path to Tantummaheag Landing (CT Examiner)


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OLD LYME — A nearly three-year standoff about public access is nowhere near resolution between Old Lyme and the owner of a historic landing on the Connecticut River. Nevertheless, the town announced Friday it will move ahead with installing signage on the property, establishing rules for public use. 

“The signs are being fabricated. Three signs will be installed, I would say probably this month,” First Selectman Tim Griswold told CT Examiner on Friday. 

But property owners George Frampton and Carla D’Arista, who purchased 12 and 19 Tantummaheag Road in 2020, have not agreed to public signs identifying the 300-year-old Tantummaheag Landing and directing vehicles toward a parking area away from the Framptons’ house and buildings.

Frampton told CT Examiner this week that the town does not own the land and that a public road never existed between his driveway entrance and the land leading to the Connecticut River, according to his research. If a road did exist, he explained, it was deemed legally inactive after 1727 through the landowner’s will. 

Though agreeing that Old Lyme does necessarily not own the land, Griswold said the public has used the roadway or right-of-way on the property since about 1700. He argued it’s a town road regardless of who owns the underlying real estate and that, over the years, Old Lyme has maintained the road and mowed the path to the river.

Frampton said he and D’Arista bought the property “with the understanding there was a pedestrian right of way,” that “it was possible for cars to go down there,” and that people had launched kayaks from the river. 

“We understood there would be people using it, and people have used it. I mean the neighbors, fewer now, not very many people. But there are half a dozen neighbors, at least, who walk a couple of times a week,” he said. 

But when the owners tried negotiating limits on use of the back driveway to reflect “a balance of public access with our safety and security,” Frampton said, the town insisted on unlimited car and truck access, parking for two cars, signage, and promising year-round vehicle access.

Frampton said he and D’Arista presented the first selectman with an “extensive deed search and historical archival record analysis” in July 2021, showing that they owned the entire landing and that the town had no ownership interest. 

Frampton accused Griswold of keeping the research secret for several months, but the first selectman denied the claim. 

“In terms of hiding or having secret information, I don’t know what he’s talking about,” Griswold said. “If it’s in land records, it would be public information, so I’m not sure specifically what is meant by the town hiding information, because all of the information comes out of land records.”

Griswold said the 1700s land records are “murky” and not as carefully documented as contemporary records. 

“We maintain, based on advice from learned counsel, that the road was made and it existed, and as to the exact spot, I don’t know,” he said. “But the whole idea of the road coming forward to the present is that it is in the right location. … We’re not saying that we own the ground, but we have a town road.”

Frampton sent a complaint and compromise offer to the town on May 27 that included a demand that Old Lyme “issue and publicize a written apology to the Framptons acknowledging its failure to be forthright about the status of the Landing for the past two years.” The letter also demanded the town record a quitclaim deed conveying any “right, title or interest of any kind the Town may have in Tantummaheag Landing” to the Framptons.

“The Framptons will be under no obligation whatsoever [to] post signage or place or stow objects or allow any form of vehicular access of any kind or parking on their property,” the compromise offer stated.

Griswold said the town has not yet responded to the compromise offer, but that his answer would be “no.” 

“We haven’t responded, and I personally would have trouble with some of those suggestions. But we would leave that to counsel, but it seems like we’re diverging instead of converging and trying to get something solidified,” he said. 

The first selectman also noted there are many roads in Old Lyme that the town does not own, but that property owners are not allowed to block them.

“We don’t own the real estate under Lyme Street. We don’t own real estate under Mile Creek Road. So many, many roads are basically rights-of-way, and they evolved from people saying ‘I need to get from here to there,’ and you make a kind of deer path and it becomes a road,” he said.

Griswold said the town is offering the Framptons its proposal from two years ago – drafted by the Harbor Management Commission and the Board of Selectmen – which included a sign with hours of operation, private property signs and parking signs, as well as a boulder placed on the path to prevent vehicular access to the water. 

According to Frampton, the town’s latest offer also bans the owners from subdividing their land, but Griswold said he was unaware of that requirement. 

The first selectman said residents are frustrated with the long resolution process. 

“People have been critical that, for a good long while, nothing’s happened. And we have been back and forth, and spent money trying to come up with something that would be an agreeable way to come to conclusion. … That has not really materialized,” he said. 

When informed of the town’s plan to erect signs on his property, Frampton responded, “If the town believes it has the right to secure public access to our back driveway greater than the pedestrian access we have consistently afforded … Connecticut law requires the town to establish the exact details of such use in court.” 

“They continue threatening to bulldoze our property because they believe it’s been a public highway for the past 300 years,” he continued. “… Their continuing threat to bulldoze our back driveway, carve out new parking places that have never existed, erect their own signs and smash our wetlands without any legal basis at all to do so is simply lawless behavior unbecoming of such a storied community as this.”