CENTERVILLE – The Town of Barnstable is appealing a recent legal decision made in favor of a property owner on Long Beach in Centerville concerning a path to the beach that has been used by generations of residents.
Barnstable Town Councilor Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville said, “People in Centerville are pretty upset because people who aren’t young any more have used that continuously for 40, 50, 60 years or more on a regular basis and they’re pretty upset about it–the loss.”
Chirigotis’s district includes Long Beach and the Centerville River area.
The path is called Cross Street on town maps and provides access to Long Beach from Long Beach Road. It is directly across from a town-owned parking lot where people with Barnstable beach stickers can leave their cars when they go to the beach.
Chiritgotis said, Cross Street has been a town way to water in the Town of Barnstable since 1911.
The issue of public beach access along Long Beach Road has been a contentious one for many years.
Over the years, the abutters have said Cross Street has been overburdened and people have been misusing it, Chirigotis said.
But, he said, in his view, over the years, people have been protective of the path, they haven’t trod down the same path to wear it out, for example.
Long Beach abuts Craigville Beach, the town’s most popular public beach. Long Beach, which is really the extension of Craigville Beach, is popular especially with walkers who can access it from Craigville Beach or from two other points along Craigville Beach Road.
A second parking lot and beach path is further down Long Beach Road. At the very end of Long Beach Road, there is a path and boardwalk to the beach, but no parking.
Chirigotis said that at one point Cross Street was a gravel road and there exist photos of cars parked along the road.
“There are many people in Barnstable who remember through the ’70s driving down and actually parking there,” he said.
But Chirigotis said he does not think any historic photos of Cross Street were presented during the court hearings.
Anecdotally, Chirigotis said, some time in the 1980s, a Barnstable selectman gave permission to one of the abutters to Cross Street to put in a lawn over the street in order to have more space to hold a wedding. Since then Cross Street has been a lawn maintained by the owner of that property, which is on the other side of Cross Street from Anastasia Marty, the property owner who brought action against the town.
In Chirigotis’s view, Marty won the lawsuit based on the fact that the town’s records when it took control of Cross Street in 1911 were insufficient in the view of the court.
Chirigotis said the legal issue took a turn in Marty’s favor because of a case in Marblehead in 2011. An abutter to a town way to water brought an action against the Town of Marblehead to acquire title to that way. The abutter won the case.
The suit was based upon a statute that indicates that when a town takes a way to water they must within two years take action to develop the way.
Soon after that, Anastasia Marty of 249 Long Beach Road brought an action against the town in Land Court using the same statute, that in her belief the Town of Barnstable had not done what was necessary back in 1911 to properly take the road within two years of acquisition.
“What happens when someone brings that type of action is it becomes the burden of the town to prove they did everything properly to formalize the taking and to develop the way. The records that were kept in Barnstable in 1911 to 1913 were, I guess inadequate to make that showing,” Chirigotis said.
As a result, the judge in the Land Court awarded the property known as Cross Street to Anastasia Marty.
The town appealed that decision and argued that appeal in early June. There is no decision yet from the Appeals Court.
After the appeal was heard, the attorney for the Town of Barnstable filed a motion for a “stay” in order to maintain the status quo pending the decision of the Appeals Court. The motion for the stay was heard in the Land Court by the judge who heard the case. That motion was denied earlier this month.
Soon after, the Town Way to Water was removed and replaced with a No Trespassing sign and the stairs to the beach were removed.
Chirigotis has said he has heard from others that a uniformed security guard is patrolling the property to enforce the No Trespassing order.
Chirigotis said an interesting twist to the case is subsequent to the legal victory for Marty, the abutter who has been maintaining the lawn has filed a motion to intervene in the case. He is saying that if anyone deserves title of the property, it is him because he has been maintaining the property as an extension of his lawn.
Chirigotis said the loss of the public property and the access to the beach has hit locals hard.
“People have been using that continuously not just in the summer but year-round. We have fishermen, people who just walk.” Because Cross Street is a flat, even surface, people who have trouble walking like to use it, Chirigotis said.
Chirigotis said he hopes a working group can be formed to deal town wide with the issue of protecting public ways to water throughout town. He said he has approached the town council president requesting that a working group be formed.