CBI Fish Pier Suit Settled; Town To Pay Inn $400K For Easement

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Commercial fishing and shellfishing , Waterways

Fishermen's trucks parked at the lower level of the fish pier on land belonging to Chatham Bars Inn which has been used by the town since the 1950s. A lawsuit over the town's taking of a permanent easement over the property in 2014 was recently settled, awarding the inn $400,000. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Chatham Bars Inn and the town have reached a settlement in a lawsuit the inn filed over the town's 2014 taking of inn property adjacent to the municipal fish pier.

In an agreement finalized in Barnstable Superior Court last week, the town will pay the inn $400,000 for a permanent easement over 10,566 square feet of land used for parking by commercial fishermen as well as access to the pier's south jog. The amount is $300,000 more than approved by voters when they agreed to the taking at the May 2014 town meeting, but less than half of the $825,000 Chatham Bars Inn said the land was worth in its 2015 lawsuit.

Both sides recognized that continuing litigation would be more expensive and pose a risk to both sides, said Town Counsel Jay Talerman.

“This is a positive outcome for everyone,” he said, crediting inn officials working with the town to reach a settlement. “They were ready to move on. The discussions were really positive,” he said.

CBI General Manager Gary Thulander said the additional funds will be put back into the inn, enhancing properties along the shoreline and buildings being renovated at 20 and 45 Chatham Bars Ave.

“I think it's a win all the way around,” he said.

The town took the easement over the land to ensure permanent access to the lower section of the fish pier. Since the 1950s the town leased the property from the inn, but prior to 2014 disputes between the two parties had thrown the continues use of the land into question. The land provides access to the south jog, used by charter boats and commercial fishermen, as well as parking reserved for fishermen with fish pier docking permits. After town meeting voted to take the easement for $100,000, the parking was expanded.

The land remains in CBI's ownership and doesn't impact the status of the existing inn buildings on the bluff above the parking area.

The settlement amount is slightly above an appraisal of the land commissioned by the town in 2009, which put its fair market value at $350,000. In its 2015 suit over the taking, CBI demanded $825,000. The settlement eliminates all future claims to use of the land over which the town has the easement, Talerman said.

CBI's lawsuit originally included claims that the taking lacked a valid public purchase and were done in bad faith, and attempted to restrict commercial activity at the pier. Those claims were dismissed, but the court allowed the case to move ahead on the matter of compensation for the taking.

About a year ago the inn changed attorneys and the management of the inn changes, with Thulander hired at general manager. That seemed to signal a change in the inn's approach to the case, Talerman said, and the two sides began negotiating over the value of the easement. A pre-trial conference had been set for June 7 with a likely fall trial to follow, but a settlement was reached precluding the need for a trial.

“The town is pleased to put this longstanding matter behind it,” Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said in a statement, “and looks forward to working closely and collaborating with CBI on matters of mutual interest.”

Thulander said his goal when he came to the inn was to understand the past history with the town and work in the best interest of the owner, New York City real estate developer Richard Cohen, and the community. That resulted in finding common ground with the town on the issue.

The properties at 20 and 45 Chatham Bars Ave. were previously subjects of lawsuits between the inn and the town over their use, but all of the actions have been settled, Thulander said. The former chauffeur's quarters at 20 Chatham Bars Ave. is being renovated into offices for the inn and a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor, while the building at 45 Chatham Bars Ave., once a bowling alley but used as storage for many years, will continue to be used for storage with limitations to address concerns by neighbors.