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No legal justification for Seaside Place ‘no trespassing’ signs

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To the editor:

In May of 2016, NancyOnNorwalk ran a couple of articles on Seaside Place and a Revolutionary War monument that was thought to be put out of reach due to a Common Council and DPW decision the previous year.

I am a 23-year resident of Cove Avenue, and I happened to attend the Common Council DPW meeting on May 3rd 2016 where the post-agenda topic of the monument had been added by Councilman Bonenfant.  At that meeting, area residents with interest were urged by the Council to do their own land records research, and having now done that to a fairly extensive degree, I thought it might be good to share what I learned.

First I want to say that I ended up looking at probably over 100 deeds and a half dozen or so maps, starting with all of the current Seaside Avenue residences, and in some cases going back to the archives.  There are some things you don’t see without looking at a lot of deeds.  I also looked at city indexes and death records, trying to figure out where key people lived and when.

My research began with a vague goal of finding out which owners also own a parcel on “the other side” of Seaside Avenue.  The reason that phrase is in quotes is because early on in my research I discovered something unexpected: there is no “other side.”  All of the maps of Fitch Point clearly show that Seaside Avenue runs flush with the seawall that separates land from harbor water.  In addition, all original deeds in the area refer to Seaside Avenue as a “fifty-foot private unimproved roadway” (note the width).  The only land on “the other side” can be measured in inches.  Its presence is due only to coastal irregularity, and the rights over that tiny strip of land is nothing more than riparian rights, a fact somewhat obscured in recent deeds, but clearly spelled out in the originals.

The name “Seaside Avenue” in the paragraph above may puzzle some readers, who are used to thinking of that road under the name “Seaside Place.”  The confusion is understandable, but the way it sorts out is this.  In the subdivision and re-naming of Fitch’s Point to Seaside Place (see Map 84 of J. Clarence Hawkins, recorded by Town Clerk in 1891), the entire 12.5 acre area is given the name “Seaside Place,” while the avenue along the water is given the name “Seaside Avenue.”  However, even in some very old deeds where J. Clarence Hawkins in the grantor, “Seaside Place” has been used as the name of the avenue.  Hence this ambiguity goes way back.

Seaside Place proper (Map 84) includes all of the following: (1) all properties abutting the southern side of Fifth Street from Gregory Boulevard to the Harbor going west; (2) all properties on Hawkins Avenue, which was originally named Prospect Street when the Map was filed; (3) all properties on the southernmost segment of Cove Avenue, which was Cove Street originally; (4) all properties on Seaside Avenue; (5) certain interior plots surrounded by the properties above.  Interested parties can obtain a printout of Map 84 from the Town Clerk for $6.

So, if you live at any of the places listed above and were not aware, Welcome to Seaside Place!

(Photos contributed by Walden Mathews)

The Revolutionary War monument on Fitch’s Point, formerly accessible to the public via a waterfront road now closed off by a fence, after a 2015 Common Council decision. (Photos contributed by Walden Mathews)

Back to the Revolutionary War monument and Mr. Bonenfant’s concern back in May.  If you got what I wrote above about the layout and width of Seaside Avenue, then you will now understand that the monument is situated on Seaside Avenue itself.  It appears to have been placed there in 1899 by the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), ostensibly with the permission of the avenue’s owner, which would have been J. Clarence Hawkins.  There were no other residential buildings on the waterfront at the time.

Hawkins still owned several parcels – (1) The residence at 6 Seaside Place (the point); (2) Seaside Avenue; (3) The “15-foot driveway”, a/k/a service road; and (4) an unbuildable strip of land adjacent to the driveway and behind Cove Avenue properties — until 1921 when he sold them, with a mortgage, to Harvey T. White (Vol. 171/Page 315-6).  White defaulted within the decade, causing all four properties to go to foreclosure auction.  The buyers (joint) were Samuel Kelley and Edith Blascer (207/329), next door neighbors.  The items (1) and (4) above were sold to Edith Sturges in 1931 (237/595).  Kelley died in 1941 his wife in 1945.  Blascer died in 1958.  No deeds conveying either Seaside Avenue land or fifteen foot driveway land have been found, and none seems to exist in the Norwalk land records.  It also appears that no heirs of Kelley or Blascer have claimed these.  Hence, Avenue ownership would seem to be in limbo.

Opinion varies on whether Seaside Avenue is public or private, and in fact those terms are a little ambiguous.  When the DPW says “not public,” they mean that the city does not pave or sweep or otherwise maintain the road.  When the residents post a sign on a gate that says “private property, no trespassing,” they are referring to criminal trespass law, a different concern.  In order to enforce criminal trespass, one has to be the owner, and as we see above, there is no owner present to do that.

Concerning the risk of arrest for trespass, I have a written statement by the Chief of Police, backed by the Prosecutor, which states that given the current ownership status of Seaside Avenue, no enforcement for trespassing would be appropriate.  This can change if the ownership status changes.

With the aid of the Tax Assessor, I’ve learned that at no time in the office’s records, going back to 1929, have taxes been assessed or paid on Avenue or service road property.  The tax assessor’s clerk who helped me was not aware of any private land in Norwalk without a tax lot number.

While the moving of a street sign (i.e., what the Council approved) would not appear, by itself, to make a monument inaccessible to the public, the placement by the Seaside Resident’s Association of gates at both ends of the avenue do seem to have that effect.  I have personally paid for a surveyor to “boundary stake” the ends of Cove Avenue and Fifth Street.  As a result we can see that these gates are on City property, something I have yet to confront the City about.

In summary, I think the Council’s recommendation to research land records has been good advice, as a number of misconceptions can now be put to rest.  Hopefully also the intricacy of the “public or private” question can be well appreciated.  I understand that the waterfront residents don’t want their privacy trampled, and I side with them on that point.  However, is shutting out the rest of the community the only way?  My wish is that, as a community, we might be able to agree on a stable and mutually satisfying solution, but it will take work.  Barring that, the wealth of a few will prevail, and an important piece of waterfront and history will slip away from public appreciation forever.

Sincerely,

Walden Mathews

(Photos contributed by Walden Mathews)

Map 84. (Photos contributed by Walden Mathews)

15 comments

Debora Goldstein January 15, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Odd that a private citizen has to do this much homework to answer a question that should have been resolved at the time the original request to rename the road was put before the council, especially given the desire for public access to the memorial.

Now if only there were someone AT CITY HALL who was PAID to answer legal questions for the council….

Sandy January 15, 2017 at 7:35 pm

Have to agree with Sandra- how many hours must have gone into this. I wish city hall would have never moved the street sign, allowed this erroneous fence and listened to the neighboring residents. Now this group of elitists have ruined all previous sense of community in their neighborhood, and created tension and shunned those that in the past have come to their aid.
T

David McGoldrick January 15, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Superb research and report! Right now our Cove Avenue neighborhood views this as a land grab. For the twenty-eight years I have lived here, area residents regularly walked along Seaside Avenue without any issue until, all of sudden, gates were installed, “no trespassing” signs were posted, and many residents of Seaside Avenue sodded the portion of the road that they hadn’t already appropriated in order to impede the progress of pedestrians. This is a situation that City Hall needs to investigate; our faith in government hinges on its ability to adjudicate questions of this kind without fear or favor.

John Levin January 17, 2017 at 2:19 pm

Nancy On Norwalk provides exactly the correct venue for this citizen to share what he has learned everyone in our town, and also offers the perfect virtual town square for neighbors to comment and share their thoughts. Excellent! Thanks, Nancy!

Kenny Prince January 18, 2017 at 11:09 am

Great Job Walden! I just saw this. What we ALL should be asking city hall is WHY they didn’t do this work? Why THEY don’t dig in and find the truth about why a non taxed street whose residents get city services was allowed to be gated off? Why they performed ZERO due diligence after our meetings, why the DPW head didn’t even know his trucks pick up garbage there, why people were allowed to just take land which increases their lot size by quite a bit but, private or public clearly belongs to another.
On another note I respect their privacy, but their right to privacy ends where their lots do, just like ALL of us. If the road isn’t theirs they CANNOT plant lawns, gardens, place furniture or other items there and not expect others to use them.

It is quite clear now that the road belongs as much to the public as it does to the residents. I’d think there are only two real options, call it public, as it should be given the decades of city services, or have the owners pay back taxes on it going back to 1929 and continue paying taxes based upon the increased lot size and waterfront property.

I think Seaview is very similar to Marvin beach except they want it all. Anybody can sit on the benches on Marvin beach. Their ROW is fifty feet but only partially paved. The difference is small and its recent. When I moved here in 76 everyone drove around that road. Their kids caught the bus with us, we were the same neighborhood and the only issue I recall was some expressing ownership over the strip beyond the road, a strip we now know doesn’t exist. I can understand the desire to limit traffic on an unpaved road, but planting lawns on it is absurd. Acting like you are unaware its not yours when your deed clearly shows your land STOPS at the road is absurd. They brought this on and the city should be appalled at the audacity, but they weren’t. Which is typical.

Again thank you Walden.

Walden January 18, 2017 at 7:04 pm

Many thanks to all who have read and left comments, and also to Nancy for providing the venue. It is nice to hear that people do care about this sort of thing.

I wanted to make a few minor corrections/additions:

1. “DAR” is Daughters of the American Revolution (not Republic). I have made attempts to contact them, unsuccessfully, to see if there are records on the details of the placement of the memorial.

2. Where I said “No deeds conveying either Seaside Avenue land or fifteen foot driveway land have been found”, I meant to say that no further deeds (beyond the White and Kelley and Blascer deeds mentioned) were found. And it seems unlikely they would be.

3. The boundary staking by surveyors which I paid for was supposed to be performed by the City, as a documented action item on both our first and second meetings with Mayor Rilling and Bruce Chimento (DPW) in the Mayor’s office. When that was not done, I informed them I would get the survey done with my own funds. I am hoping the City will reimburse the expense eventually, but to be fair, I have not submitted it yet.

Once again, thanks for all the kind feedback!

Cheers,
Walden Mathews

Walden January 20, 2017 at 9:39 pm

Another correction; the buildings at #7 and #9 Seaside Avenue were also present in 1899 when the DAR memorial was placed, having been build sometime in the 1880’s. If readers have specifics, please supply them. Also, if readers have photos, or access to same, from this era, I would like to see them. If anyone would like to communicate with me outside this forum with the above or other information pertaining to the Sea Side Place neighborhood, that can be arranged through Nancy. Thank you.

Debora Goldstein January 21, 2017 at 10:33 am

I think its long past time for the Mayor himself to meet with the PW committee members and request that this item be revisited at the committee level.

They should schedule a discussion forthwith, and their packets should include all of the research and the survey results compiled by Mr. Matthews and their discussions should be done in full view of the public, with ample opportunity for the public to weigh in.

Trying to handle this quietly via private meetings with the Mayor and his direct report, DPW Director Chimento appears to have left many stones unturned.

The first order of business is to determine the true legal status of this land, and the second order of business is to create a clear, explicit, well-documented resolution as soon as possible.

Cheryl Bloom Ajemian May 19, 2017 at 4:46 pm

I discovered this by accident when I was trying to get an electronic picture of my late grandma, Mildred Bloom’s house at 3 Seaside Place. Makes me sad that I cannot get a picture of either the front or the back where she garaged her car “Rosebud”. Wish I had the picture but at least they cannot take away my cherished memories of her and living in that house. This is so sad.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.