Crescent Bluff Aerial

The area in question in the ongoing litigation: the access area between lots 3 and 4 (center), and direct waterfront access. 

In the next month, various town bodies will vote on a potential eminent domain taking of a road and grassy area in a case that has cost residents and the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and police costs in the neighborhood battle.

Crescent Bluff, a road in Pine Orchard which leads to the shore, has seen a protracted legal battle between the shorefront property owners and many of the residences on the street over access to the water, and how property once considered communal by some is now being managed. Once a battle between neighbors, the town and Pine Orchard Association have been pulled into the fight, and lengthy negotiations that would have the town buy the property outright have stalled.

But to understand the potential eminent domain taking, we need to know how the issue developed. With a lengthy legal record in the courts, we can put together the history using official filings and legal decisions.

The Baker Plan

In July, 1885, Ellis Baker filed in the Branford land records a development plan (Baker plan) for a beachfront community on the sound. At the time Baker filed the plan, he owned the property within the development, including the lawn, as trustee for the beneficiaries of a trust.  The beneficiaries of the trust included Baker himself.

The Baker plan is a map depicting thirty-five lots, a strip of land labeled “avenue” and an area labeled “lawn.” The lawn lies between the lots and the beach that borders on the sound. The avenue, now known as Crescent Bluff (at one time it was called Maple), runs perpendicular to the sound.

The Baker Plan

The Baker Plan depicting Crescent Bluff. The waterfront is to the right Crescent Bluff Avenue runs down the middle. Barbara Saggese (Beachcroft) owns lot 3. In question is the avenue itself, space between lots 3 and 4, and the space between the property line in front of lots 1-4 and the waterfront.  

The lawn is approximately forty feet deep between the southern border of the waterfront lots and the beginning of a concrete slope that leads down to the beach.  

As the area was developed, properties that did not have direct waterfront access would still have access to the lawn and waterfront. Over time, there were neighborhood events, the area on the lawn was used for normal waterfront activities, picnics, sunbathing, etc by residents of the street. There were few, if any, issues.

In the early 2000’s, lot 3 (See Baker Map) was owned by Juanita and Joseph Millerick. Wanting to sell the property, the Millericks ultimately sold the property to Barbara Saggese, who I many of the legal filings regarding the property is either listed by her name or the entity she used to purchase the property, Beachcroft LLC.

When the listing was placed, the property was listed as “waterfront.” However, court records show that Saggese was made aware that property in front of the home, between the property line and the waterfront, was not included in the property, and that is was used by those on the street. Court records also show that Saggese was made aware of ongoing litigation between a different property owner on the shoreline and other neighbors on Crescent Bluff having to do with access to the waterfront, a fence that was erected and costs of paying for seawall and stair improvements.

Documents brought into evidence showed that the property did not directly abut the waterfront but rather the communal lawn.

After purchase in 2003, Saggese would file a lawsuit against the real estate agent, stating some key information regarding this was withheld, the courts ultimately did not agree.

Upset over residents using the lawn and access points as recreational areas, Beachcroft did some research to find out who had rights to the lawn and road. Without a clear answer, she contacted the original heirs to the property, and in 2015 purchased the rights from them for $150,000.

That purchase could only be done if all of the areas remaining were purchased together, and according to the agreement and Baker map that included the access area the lawn in question and the road.

The lawn area was then filed with the town, and the town recognized it in 2006. The property was designated 1A Crescent Bluff Avenue, and taxed as property.

Suddenly, neighbors who had become accustomed to using the property, access which also contributed to their property values, were no longer able to do so.

A significant aspect of the debate was if residents of the street had use of the property simply as an access point to the waterfront, or as a gathering place and communal location.

What happened next was a nearly nonstop stream of lawsuits appeals filings and costs incurred. The residents have appealed to town leaders through multiple administrations in the past, and while the town did maintain the road and had draining pipes under the access point to the sound, the town showed little interest in being involved in the litigation.

Late in the term of former first selectman Unk DaRos, however, the town was pulled in, as was the Pine Orchard Association.

At the same time, the area became, what DaRos would publicly call an “embarrassment to the neighborhood.” Neighbors reported that if they tried to access the area they were screamed at, and threatened with surveillance. Video cameras were set up focused at other homes on the street by some of the litigants.

At one point, a surveyor hired by Saggese staked out her property, which now included the road and about the first 5 feet on the front of each of the 30 properties along the street, with residents waking up to property line stakes across their front lawns.

Police records show over 250 calls to Crescent Bluff since 2006, many dealing with trespass claims. DaRos would also refer to this, stating that the local police “are not private security.”

Eminent Domain

While the road was largely treated as a town road, included town drainage, and maintained by the town, it technically was not. Improvements to the waterfront have been undertaken by the Pine Orchard Association, but they also do not own the road or access to the waterfront.

The use of the supposed communal and access areas has a significant impact on the property values of the homeowners on the street. Many have lived there for years and regularly used the waterfront lawn, and that use has been a major part of the endless stream of litigation that the neighborhood has seen.

In a letter to selectmen, the Pine Orchard Association (POA) makes its case for the property to be taken by eminent domain. The POA states that it has expended significant tax dollars in ensuring access to the water and has policed and managed the area. They also state that the property obtained by Saggese from the heirs of the site was never listed among the assets of those heirs, and that there had never been any claim to this property made prior to Saggese acquisition in 2006. “Until 2006, the town ownership of the roadway and the POS’s interest in the stairway was undisputed,” the Association writes.

“While there are three pending cases concerning Crescent Bluff matters, the POA believes that the towns utilization of its eminent domain power in this matter would relieve much of the angst and uncertainty that Crescent Bluff residents have endured since 2006,” the letter reads. “The Town has expended significant tax payer funds to pave, improve, and maintain the road. The public should have the benefit of those expenditures by being able to use the road without being exposed to the threat of trespass complaints.”

Past Use

Branford is no stranger to eminent domain cases. The Tabor case is well known and cost taxpayers an estimated 19 million dollars in costs, legal fees and interest.

Eminent domain is essentially the taking of a property for public use. Most often, it is used to widen roads or build government structures.

In the Tabor case, the courts ruled the town fraudulently took private property after greatly inflating potential contamination claims and stating there was a town use for the site. In Tabor, the town attempted to make the case that the site was 1. At risk for contamination due to its proximity to a former landfill, and 2, the town was looking to use the property for fields and town facilities.

However, this case is significant different. In Tabor, the town developed a sudden need for the privately owned site after development, some of which was affordable housing, was proposed.

In Crescent Bluff, it is well established for over a century that the residents have made use of the street and access points to the waterfront.

As far as one can remember and there are records, the town has maintained the road, and the POA has paid for and maintained improvements.

Should the various town entities approve an eminent domain taking, the courts will demand the hiring of multiple appraisers to place a valuation on the site, that Saggese will be paid. With the recorded initial purchase price of $150,000, and with the property in question not being developable, the valuation is likely to be in that general area.

There have been negotiations with Saggese and the town about a outright purchase, but the two have been unable to come to terms. The negotiations are evidence there is an openness to sell the rights to the site; an eminent domain taking would allow the courts to oversee a fair purchase price.

The Board of Selectmen voted last week to move forward with the taking. The Representative Town Meeting will hear the matter Wednesday night, and could either vote of sent it to committee. Planning and Zoning typically hears the item as well, but not for an approval but its compliance with the Plan of Conservation and Development. Finally, it will be analyzed by the Board of Finance.

An eminent domain taking may also help solve a major issue in the area as well: with the lawn area becoming town property, approval would be needed for meetings on town space, much like it is for events held on the town green. So while access to the waterfront would no longer be in question, gatherings and picnics, cookouts, etc the neighbors may want would need approval, allowing the town to limit the number of events that are approved, if any.

(20) comments

Guest

Where was the title insurance company in this situation? I thought it was standard practice to make sure that the seller had title free and clear before any property could be sold? This article makes it seem like the sellers may not have had clear title after all. Odd disjunction.

Guest

There is title insurance. The court has ruled that Beachcroft owns the avenue and that the road and waterfront lawns are private.

Guest

Mr. Mazzacane, perhaps you are targeting the wrong waterfront owner. The McBurneys were the ones who did not replace their sidewalk following Hurricane Irene. I understand that they are the ones who are really blocking access. Part of this litigation is about the sidewalk that was not replaced. It is my understanding from court records that there are other waterfront owners who were involved in this litigation long before Beachcroft purchased its property. I think you need to get your facts correct. Everyone who lives on Crescent Bluff has always had access to the beach. I live on this street and have never had any problems getting to the beach. The Saggese Family repaired their waterfront after Hurricane Irene at their own cost. The problem is that there is NO real beach at the end of this street and now that the McBurney's didn't repair the sidewalk there is nowhere to go. All residents have always had access to the beach.

Marc Riccio

There is a lot more to this situation than what is mentioned or reported in this article as to what the neighbors have put the Saganesse family through. Pet the town charter, the RTM has the authority of purchasing land. The RTM body needs to conduct a fair and proper study before any decision is made by the RTM body. I will be recommending tonight the RTM body rerefer this topic to Administrative Committee In order for the RTM members to learn all of the facts before we can make a decision in order for the RTI members to learn all of the facts before we can make a fair and accurate decision. From what I understand so far there seems to be a conflict of interest with many of the people that are trying to take the property rights away from the Saganesse family. Otherwise the town is going to deal with another situation similar to the Tabor property that cost the town millions of dollars in lawsuits. Marc Riccio Branford 6th District - RTM

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

A personal issue between residents is not relevant to an eminent domain case. What an elected official feels one person “went through†is not relevant to an eminent domain case. We suggest all elected officials have the common sense to get facts well before publicly commenting on an issue that impacts many residents and hundreds of thousands in tax dollars. In fact, the uninformed comments of elected officials played a major role in the Tabor debacle. 

Guest

Why isn't the title insurance company involved? Was there no title insurance acquired when the land was purchased in 2006? Seems really odd. You'd think the title insurance company would have some liability here, no?

Guest

If you are referring to me as “get the facts before publicly commenting”, well I have Mr Mazacaine including reading the Court conclusions, surveying the property and speaking to the residents. Now that we clarified that point, the RTM did its job last evening voting to send this item to the Admin Committee so the RTM can start to learn about this unfortunate situation that has been festering for years.

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

Posting anonymously and then asking if I'm referring to you is idiotic. Second, the RTM did not vote to send the item to the Administrative Committee, it was done by the moderator. Third, referring to all of the court decisions is a red herring, Thats the talking points of the land owners. an eminent domain taking is about the towns use and greater good. Yes, the courts determined who owns the property, if they didn't, there would be no need for an eminent domain taking. Flooding the comment section with countless false emails does not make them correct.

Guest

Informative article, thank you for summing it up!

Guest

Seriously Steve why do you even bother with the Wayne Cooke/ Mark Riccio contingent? Its not worth the effort.

Guest

Here we go again with another battle royal as the town shovels mud against the tide. Accusations flying everywhere, politics galore, Pine Orchard Country Club members interrupting their latest round of golf to pen a letter to Cosgrove, and everyone is lawyered up. Let the games begin while the lawyers win

Guest

I agree with you, the lawyers will make out very well battling this battle! Why is the Town even getting involved in this! This is a legal battle that should be funded by the neighbors who are affected by this obstruction and The Pine Orchard Association. This has been a long and very expensive fight for both sides and it just seems like they came up with this eminent domain idea as a way to ease the financial burden! Is the Town going to get involved in every property dispute between neighbors!!! Town attorney fees should be spent on Town issues, this is a personal issue between disgruntled neighbors!!!!

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

There are significant missed facts in this statement. The town is not suddenly getting involved, the town was involved going back to the DaRos administration. This fight has not been just between neighbors, the town has been a party for years. This is not a personal issues between neighbors, although that does exist, this is a separate matter. How one feels about the action is up to you, but the facts do not fit the opinion, informed persons form opinions by knowing the facts.

Guest

Something doesn't add up here. If the Town has installed water lines and sewer lines and Ms Saggese claims to own the entire street, can't the Town bill her for all the work that it did in improving the street? and, since the work was done many years ago, can't the Town add interest to the work that it did? Why not just send her a bill for several hundred thousand dollars, say? doesn't she owe the Town money? if not, why not?

Guest

One would think but the Town is trying to purchase this particular property from the owner for roughly $150,000 so that the residents can barbecue their filet mignon on it. Why doesn't the Pine Orchard Association buy the property!!!! If this owner is so in the wrong why is the Town willing to pay her and not try to recoup the costs as noted in other comment for work and services they performed on it!!! Something is not kosher with this whole situation!

Guest

If the town takes it with tax payer money....I’m using it all the time.

Guest

Oh good idea I have to get my cooler out and ready to go!!! Staycation!!!

Guest

The town's moral majority and 1 percenters, over filet mignon and champagne, gave marching orders to the powers that be. And town hall showed how good they are at following direction

Guest

How many enterprising people are out there now, perusing the Town's records, to find another place where a former landowner subdivided their land holding and developed houses on it, to try to find those heirs and buy the street and other common areas from them? Maybe we should think beyond this one situation and make sure it isn't repeated again somewhere else?

Guest

I think this property would be a great dog park. Hope this gets resolved soon, we will be receiving French exchange students that prefer Bain de soleil nu!

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