Riverhead Town sees breakthrough in Wading River beach rights battle

08/13/2010 12:00 AM |

The dispute over who owns the Wading River beachfront to the east of
the Riverhead Town beach off Creek Road took an interesting twist
recently, when town officials claimed they had found evidence that this
beach actually belongs to the town, and was listed as a town beach in
tax maps prior to 1980.

This is the controversial section of
beach on Long Island Sound where several homeowners erected “no
trespassing” signs earlier this year, prompting a dispute with people
who use four-wheel-drive vehicles, and with some town officials.

Riverhead
Supervisor Sean Walter at one point this year said the town would order
the signs removed by July 4, but he later relented and said he wanted
to work with the homeowners to find a solution both sides could live
with.

Riverhead Councilman George Gabrielsen, who was at a
recent meeting with the homeowners when the town presented its
findings, said, “Their jaws dropped when we showed them this.”

Town
attorney Dawn Thomas said the town now believes the amount of
beachfront land that belongs to the homeowners is far less than they
claimed.

The property owners have maintained that their own
deeds show that the beachfront land is their property as far north as
the mean high water mark. And they say they’ve hired a surveying firm
to determine where the mean high water mark is located, and that the
“no trespassing” signs are slightly landward of that mark.

Jonathan Sinnreich, the attorney representing the homeowners, declined to comment on the town’s position.

Mr.
Walter said he stills wants to work with the homeowners to find a
solution that’s amicable to both sides, but he said the discovery of
the beach’s being listed as a town beach on tax maps in the 1970s puts
the town in a better negotiating position. He also said the town will
request that the “no trespassing” signs be removed by Labor Day.

Mr.
Walter said a title search conducted by the town found that the beach
land in question was all owned by the same person in the 1930s but was
taken by a bank in a foreclosure.

Sometime after that, it became
a town beach, and was consistently labeled as a town beach on tax maps
through the 1970s, he said. In the early 1980s or late 1970s, he said,
some private land owners convinced the bank to give them title to the
land through a quit claim deed, which doesn’t guarantee that the
grantor was the owner of the land. Mr. Walter believes the listing of
the land as a town beach carried more weight that the quit claim deed.

“Some
property owners thought they were being clever, and they went to the
bank and got a quit claim deed, which basically means the bank is
saying, ‘We don’t know what we own here, but whatever we own, we’ll
give to these property owners,’

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