Three lessons from recent Connecticut land dispute

It is not uncommon for a plan to expand property to result in a land dispute. In some cases, these disputes can involve individual landowners, while in others, the dispute can involve the city. Still others can attempt to navigate the nuances of zoning regulations. A recent case provides an example and three important lessons for those attempting to navigate these issues.

What was the dispute?

The dispute involved a mile-long green within the town of Lebanon, Connecticut, essentially unchanged since its use in the 1700s by troops who camped during the Revolutionary War. The community currently enjoys the land as a community green space. Local farmers continue to hay the field every year and the community uses a portion as a community skating rink in the winter months.

The green includes a library, local church, and the front yards of 14 adjacent properties. The question of ownership began when the city attempted to expand the library. At that time, a document from 1705 was discovered that gave ownership of the green was to the 51 original proprietors and passed to their “heirs and assigns.” A historian estimated 10,000 people could have a stake in the property. Ultimately, the city chose to file suit with a local court for ownership.

What are the lessons?

Although the case involves a particular set of facts, three general rules apply to most land dispute cases in Connecticut:

  • Attempt to negotiate. The city leaders and stakeholders got together to negotiate a deal that satisfied all parties. If possible, this can result in an efficient way to resolve a dispute.
  • Follow the protocol. Even though they were able to come up with an agreement, the city leaders and stakeholders recognized that they would need legal counsel to help draft the agreement within the bounds of the law. This helps to mitigate the risk of a future ownership challenge to the land.
  • Recognize other potential issues. In this case, the city leaders recognized larger issues could arise if they were unable to reach a resolution. A representative for the city stated the city planned to resolve the issue to avoid state involvement.

The court signed off on the agreement. The city is moving forward with expansion of the library, the adjacent properties have their front yards, and a large portion of the green will remain an open, community space.