Issue of bridle path ownership at Chester Main Estates may go to town meeting

Issue of bridle path ownership at Chester Main Estates may go to town meeting


NORTH STONINGTON — The question of whether the town should transfer ownership of a bridle path to a homeowners association in Chester Maine Estates will go to a town meeting, providing certain conditions are met.

The scheduling of a town meeting to decide the matter was approved by the Board of Selectmen Tuesday.

Key in the process is the formation of a homeowners association, which was the missing linchpin that led to the town’s ownership of the property.

The bridle path was conveyed to the town in 2008 by Dwight Kettlehut, who owned property in the subdivision, which was developed in 1994-95. The 30-foot-wide trail winds behind 31 properties in the Chester Maine subdivision.

Last year it came to the attention of resident Jonathan Edwards, who owns an eponymous winery in Chester Maine Estates, that the town planned to open the bridle path to the public as a multi-use trail.

At the Sept. 13 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Edwards, who purchased nine parcels in Chester Maine in about 2001, brought documentation of a covenant on the property showing the bridle trail’s usage was restricted to abutting landowners. He said the covenant ran with the land and Chester Maine residents had the right to vote on any changes to the covenant.

In the original plan, a homeowners association was supposed to own the bridle path privately, but the association was never formed.

The covenant had been overlooked when three parcels were conveyed to the town in 2008, he said.

A title search in 2008 showed the path was owned by Development Associates, a group owned by the Kettlehut family, according to Attorney Frank Eppinger, of Mystic, who was working for the town.

Before the property was conveyed to the town, the Board of Selectmen took it to a special town meeting on April 6, 2009, where residents voted to accept the trail as town land, but no covenant was mentioned at the time.

After learning of the covenant, First Selectman Shawn Murphy, on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, requested a review of the Chester Maine homeowners’ request that the town quit its claim to the bridle trail and convey the property to their homeowners’ association.

In a July 6 letter to the Board of Selectmen, Lou Steinbrecher, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, wrote that, “though the record is not clear,” the Commission “agrees with the opinion of the homeowners of the Chester Maine Subdivision and their attorney regarding the original intent that the land/trail was to be maintained and managed by a homeowners association for private use by the homeowners of the subdivision only.”

The trail was likely considered “open space,” required in all subdivisions at the time, Steinbrecher wrote.

Notes in the file and official meeting minutes indicated that a homeowners association was to be formed to manage the open space, but an association was never formed, he wrote.

Though the town’s Plan of Conservation and Recreation Lands addresses the acquisition of open space for public use, “it is the opinion of the Planning and Zoning Commission that the parcels in question do not provide a significant recreational value given the close proximity to private residences, and often wet and difficult terrain,” Steinbrecher wrote.

The commission recommended the decision of conveying the parcels be decided at a town meeting, pending the formation of a homeowners association, to which the town would transfer the property. Other conditions included a Memo of Understanding from the residents of Chester Maine to the town promising to form an association, a permanent conservation easement and a town-approved maintenance agreement.

The formation of a homeowners association is well underway, Murphy said Wednesday.

“I learned from Jonathan Edwards that he’s obtained about 28 of the 31 signatures they need for the Memo of Understanding that we talked about — they should have that within a couple of weeks, he told me,” Murphy said.

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