CHATHAM — Saying they are hopeful a legal settlement can be reached with a group of Stage Neck property owners, selectmen last week tabled a town meeting article seeking to reaffirm a controversial 1997 road taking.
Following a closed-door session with town counsel, selectmen voted unanimously to indefinitely postpone action on a warrant article which would have confirmed the 1997 taking of easements for portions of Stage Harbor Road, Battlefield Road, Cedar Street, Champlain Road, Port Fortune Lane, Sears Road and Stage Neck Road.
“I think the board has a way forward that will prove to be reasonable and somewhat prescient,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Jeffrey Dykens told a crowd of neighborhood residents at last Tuesday's meeting.
Nine Stage Neck property owners filed suit against the town claiming they never received notification of a 1997 road easement that took a "significant" portion of each of their properties, some of which will be used for a planned multi-use path along Stage Harbor Road. The suit claims the owners did not know about the taking until 18 years later, when the town-owned right-of-way along Stage Harbor Road was marked with stakes during last summer's debate about placing sidewalks along that road.
No record could be found of notification to the property owners as required by state law, the suit states, and they therefore had no opportunity to challenge the taking or seek compensation. The suit claims the town deliberately failed to inform 228 property owners along nine roads of the easement taking to avoid having to pay damages.
Acknowledging the neighbors' “understandable but unnecessary concern,” Selectman Dean Nicastro said the town has no intention to revisit the proposal to install sidewalks in the area.
“This is really a taking of a public way,” he said. Nicastro said the best approach is to table the town meeting article to allow continued talks toward a legal settlement with the neighbors. Only after that time would there be an order of taking “amenable to all our citizens,” he said. The result will be an agreement “that clarifies the existing conditions,” Nicastro said.
The plaintiffs, including Catherine Beatty of 242 Stage Harbor Rd., argue that there have been no new plans of the proposed taking available for them to view. If the taking is the same as the one proposed in 1997, or are similar to the sidewalk plans the town proposed in 2015, the plaintiffs won't be the only ones upset, Beatty said.
“I can assure you they will be unacceptable to virtually every landowner whose property abuts any of the seven roads. There will be a new lawsuit then, and it will have a lot more than nine property owners as plaintiffs,” she said.
Selectman Seth Taylor said in order for the roads to be public roads, the town needs to present a layout and then proceed with an order of taking.
“The sentiment on this board is to maintain these roads and the paved surfaces as they currently exist, without anything that is disagreeable to, or that has been generally opposed by the people on the loop,” he said.