A nearly six-year-long dispute involving an unpaved portion of Martin Road has been settled by the court.
The town of Weston did not abandon “Old Highway,” according to a decision issued July 25 by Judge Howard T. Owens Jr. of the Bridgeport Superior Court.
The decision puts to rest a claim by Sunil and Uma Ippagunta of 20 Martin Road, who asked the court to “quiet and settle” title to an unpaved portion of Martin Road known as “Old Highway” that they claimed belonged to them because the town had abandoned it.
In a substantially explained decision, the court found the Ippaguntas did not carry their “heavy burden” to prove abandonment of Old Highway.
Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said she was “very pleased with the court’s decision,” as did town legal counsel, Jason Buchsbaum of Cohen & Wolf, who defended the town.
Martin Road — including the Old Highway portion — runs easterly from Davis Hill Road, past the Ippagunta property, to the Saugatuck River. A portion of Martin Road is paved from Davis Hill Road to near the Ippaguntas’ driveway.
The portion of Martin Road that extends to the Saugatuck River is unpaved (Old Highway) but contains identifiable walking paths that allow public access from Martin Road to the Saugatuck River.
A dispute between the Ippaguntas and the town of Weston surfaced in 2006, when the Ippaguntas received a variance from the Board of Selectmen to build a driveway for the home they were constructing at 20 Martin Road.
In addition to building the driveway, Mr. Ippagunta installed a stone wall that extended onto town property as well as onto a portion of the unpaved Old Highway adjacent to Mr. Ippagunta’s property.
After the stone wall was built, the town issued the Ippaguntas a cease and desist order saying they needed to apply for a zoning permit for the wall.
Mr. Ippagunta explained at the time that as he was building the driveway there was a knoll and a large tree at the entrance so he built a retaining wall for safety purposes.
In 2008, Woody Bliss, who was then first selectman, said just because the board gave Mr. Ippagunta a variance for the driveway, it did not give him the right to build a stone wall on town property.
Several residents complained about the wall and refuted the Ippaguntas’ argument that the town had abandoned Old Highway, citing instances of the public using Old Highway in the past for picnics and to walk to the river.
Things turned ugly in June 2008, when vandals spray painted in orange letters “Town Park” on the stone wall. Weston police investigated the matter but no suspect was ever found. The stone wall has since been removed.
The Ippaguntas filed a lawsuit asking the court to “quiet and settle” title to a piece of property on Old Highway adjacent to 20 Martin Road where part of the stone wall was located.
The Ippaguntas claimed the town had abandoned the roadway and as an abutting neighbor they were entitled to own a portion of the land to the center line of Old Highway.
Non-use is not enough
Both sides in the suit agreed that Old Highway was a public highway up until the abandonment alleged in the complaint. In the suit, however, the Ippaguntas claimed the town had abandoned Old Highway by “non-use.”
The court said non-use is not enough to constitute abandonment. There must also be evidence that the municipality intended to abandon the property.
The town claimed it never intended to abandon Old Highway and presented evidence showing Old Highway had been used for public access to the river and it had been publicized in The Weston Forum as a public highway that provides public access to the river.
There was also evidence presented that in 1964 the town voted to reject a resolution that would have discontinued Old Highway.
A pair of maps introduced by the Ippaguntas indicating the town might potentially abandon a portion of Old Highway were not deemed relevant by the court because the court said the property delineated on the maps was not adjacent to the Ippagunta property.
The court supported its finding that the town had not abandoned Old Highway with relevant case law, including a 1908 Connecticut Supreme Court decision that held that public use of an unimproved roadway by foot solely during summer months was sufficient use to constitute acceptance of a highway.
The court also noted there was no public record or document recorded on the land records that in any way indicated that any portion of Old Highway adjacent to the Ippagunta property had ever been abandoned.
Resolves the issues
Although the court struck down their claim of abandonment, Uma Ippagunta said she and her husband were pleased with the court’s decision. She said it was never their intention to “get the land.”
In an email to The Forum, the Ippaguntas said, “We are pleased with the outcome. The town has accepted this section of Martin Road as public highway, giving our lot legally required road frontage. Town has further accepted that it never obtained title to Martin Road either by deed or by eminent domain. This ensures that this land cannot be used for any other purposes than a roadway. Which means converting it to a park or having a picnic on this land is no different than doing the same on Lyons Plain Road. These give the required protections for the value of our property and settles the open issues on this land once and for all.”