WARWICK — After reviewing about 200 deeds and other related documents, a real estate title lawyer determined that the original owners of a disputed section of Misquamicut never intended to dedicate the beach area of their property as public.
The lawyer, Joseph Priestley Jr., who has an office on Beach Street in Westerly, testified Friday in Kent County Superior Court. He was hired as an expert witness for the owners of property along Atlantic Avenue, from the Westerly Town Beach to Weekapaug Breachway. The property owners are being sued by the state.
In the lawsuit, filed on behalf of state Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, the state claims five owners of what was then a 2½- mile-stretch of land on both sides of Atlantic Avenue, from what is now Misquamicut State Beach to the breachway, joined together in 1909 to market their property as Pleasant View Beach. Those five owners, the state claims, designated all of their beach property as open to the public and depicted their intent on a plat or map filed in the land records at Westerly Town Hall.
The state claims an undulating line that runs west to east across the map was intended to show that ocean-side lots ended at the spot where the land meets the sand of the beach, leaving the beach open to the public. On Friday, Priestley said he did not accept the state’s theory about the undulating line because the line is not continuous but instead breaks in five places.
“The lots on the plat are strange in that you can’t tell where their southerly boundary is,” Priestley said.
Finding the plat unclear, Priestley said he studied the deeds documenting sales of the property shown on the plat.
“[The] original owners’ deeds recorded after the 1909 Pleasant View plat consistently treated the area shown as beach on the 1909 Pleasant View plat as private property included within the lots created by the 1909 Pleasant View plat, the southern boundaries of which were consistently described as the Atlantic Ocean, a natural monument,” Priestley said in a 49- page report he produced for William Landry, the lawyer representing the current property owners.
The state contends that the plat should be the controlling document in the case since many of the deeds make reference to the plat.
Priestley also testified that land depicted in the 1909 plat was owned by more than the five people who signed the plat. Additionally, Priestley said many of the deeds recorded around the time of the 1909 plat include language that gave the original owners “beach rights” to collect seaweed from the properties.
Deeds for lots depicted on the 1909 plat with the letter “p” were sold in 1906 to Henrietta Palmer. The deeds describe the lots as being bounded on the south “by the sea,” Priestley said.
Priestley is expected to resume his testimony in the non-jury trial being heard by Associate Justice Brian Stern on Monday afternoon.
Defendants in the case are: Joan M. Barbuto, Lynne D. Kaesmann, Joann Harrington, Clarence G. and Judith W. Brown, John B. Stellitano, James M. Tobin, Joshua M. Vocatura, Nicholas P. Jarem, Sandra L. Jarem, Mickmays LLC., Joan A. Carr, John C. Maffe Jr., Patricia Jean Shannon, Stephanie E. Immel, Jeanne E. Shannon, and Joseph M. Shannon. Some of the lots have shared ownership. The following property owners joined the case as intervenors: Dunes Park Inc., Donna Pirie, Margaret Andreo, Janet Taylor, David McGill, Miriam McGill, Timothy Shea, Brian Shay, and Justin Shea, and Jeffrey Feibelman.