But you also live in Greens Farms. Maybe Coleytown. Or Saugatuck.
Those are a few of the neighborhoods that make up our town. Some are long established, predating our founding in 1835. Some are newer, the result of growth or realtors’ whims.
All are part of ‘06880.”
Karen Scott knows Westport neighborhoods as well as anyone. A co-founder of KMS Partners @ Compass, the other day she took me on a (phone) tour of town.
The Mid-Fairfield County Board of Realtors defines 13 distinct Westport neighborhoods. Besides the 3 mentioned above, there are a few everyone recognizes: Old Hill and Compo Beach, for example. Some are less well known, like Red Coat in the far northwest, Long Lots, Roseville/North Avenue and Compo South (see map below).
(Map courtesy of Mid-Fairfield County Board of Realtors)
A couple are new. Hunt Club (from the Fairfield border and Cross Highway west to Bayberry and south to the Post Road) and Compo Commons (the smallest of all, more commonly known as Gault).
But 2 caught my eye. One is In-Town. The area between the Merritt Parkway, Saugatuck River, Post Road and Roseville Road — with, among others, North Compo and all its side streets — has, with the influx of families from Manhattan and Brooklyn, suddenly become very desirable.
They like the proximity to downtown — they can walk there in theory, if not practice. Until recently though, no one lived “In-Town.” They just lived “close to town.”
Washington Avenue, an “In-Town” neighborhood. (Photo/Google Street View)
The other relatively new name is “Saugatuck Island.” When I was a kid, there was just “Saugatuck Shores.” (And houses there were among the cheapest in Westport. Some were not winterized. Who wanted to live way out there, anyway?!)
But a while ago — no one is sure when — some residents living beyond the wooden bridge decided to become even more exclusive than what had then become the already prestigious Saugatuck Shores.
Hence “Saugatuck Island.” One long-time and embarrassed resident cringes every time she hears it. But there it is, complete with a large sign at the entrance. (Fun fact: No other Westport neighborhood has an actual “entrance.”)
Karen Scott says that neighborhoods are a good way to describe Westport. “Everyone has preferences,” she notes. “Some people want land, not neighbors. Others don’t want a lot of land. Some prefer near the beach, or close to town. Some want to be close to amenities. Some want to be close to the train station, I-95 or the Merritt” — though with COVID, commuting convenience is less of a concern these days.
The hot real estate market has cooled the “neighborhood” concept a bit, she says. “When there aren’t a lot of homes for sale, some people say, ‘I don’t care. I just want to be in Westport.'”
The neighborhood concept itself has evolved (and become more formalized). At one time, Karen says, areas of town were designated by school districts. (That was probably easier when there were 3 junior highs — Bedford [now Saugatuck Elementary School], Coleytown and Long Lots — rather than just 2 middle schools, located a mile from each other.)
The Long Lots neighborhood has been “sub-divided.” It now includes the Hunt Club area.
As a realtor, Karen Scott is used to describing Westport’s 13 “official” neighborhoods, then squiring clients around to those that sound interesting.
Some buy in neighborhoods they took a quick liking to. Others end up in ones they did not originally consider.
But for all its different neighborhoods, Westport is really one big small town. And most people, Karen says, find “joy and happiness” all over, once they’re here.
The Chic front man/3-time Grammy Award-winning/Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee/ “We Are Family” songwriter-producer has played at the Levitt Pavilion, helped out the Library, and contributed to the Saugatuck Shores vibe.
But he’s joining Ashford & Simpson, Neil Sedaka and Johnny Winter — among others — on the list of former Westport music royalty.
His Bermuda Lagoon home is on the market for $5.25 million. The price does not include his recording studio.
Nile Rodgers’ house. (Photo/Stephanie Loda for Greenwich Photography)
The Wall Street Journal reports:
The roughly half-acre property has about 90 feet of waterfront on the Bermuda Lagoon off Long Island Sound, Mr. Rodgers said. He bought the house in 1980 for $269,000, he said, because it offered a dock that he could use for boating.
Nile Rodgers’ house features water views from everywhere. (Photo/Stephanie Loda for Greenwich Photography)
Built in 1953, the house has an indoor pool, a library, a dining room and a great room with vaulted ceilings and a fireplace…
The recording studio, where Mr. Rodgers said he has hosted artists including Diana Ross, Slash, Blondie and Mick Jagger, has an outdoor terrace overlooking the lagoon. The studio, which was once an additional bedroom, is outfitted with audio equipment and a vocal recording booth, which isn’t included in the sale. It also has a Sub-Zero refrigerator and wet bar….
Nile Rodgers will be taking his gold and platinum records with him. (Photo/Stephanie Loda for Greenwich Photography)
He said he is selling the property because he plans to spend more time at his home in Turks and Caicos; he also has homes in New York City and Florida. He said he plans to donate proceeds from the sale of the house to his “We Are Family” foundation, which promotes cultural diversity and mentors youth.
Click here for the full story (and some awesome photos). (Hat tip: Jeff Jacobs)
This morning’s story about the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club’s claim that it owns not only the land under its water — but the water itself — drew a reaction from readers. A few pointed out special circumstances.
One reader — who asked not to be identified — emailed:
In fact, the yacht basin is privately owned. While the general rule is that the state has jurisdiction over tidal and navigable waters like this, as is the case with both the Cedar Point and Compo yacht basins, the Saugatuck yacht basin was deeded to the yacht club by the Governor of Connecticut, I believe when it was proposed to be dredged out or shortly after.
The reader sent a land record map of the basis. Note 2 on the bottom right shows that none of the other lots facing the yacht basin (Duck Pond) have “any riparian, littoral or other rights to said pond or the waters therein.”
The reader notes that the lots never relinquished those rights. Rather, they were created out of land that did not previously have waterfront access, and were created with the stipulation that they would not have access after the basin was dredged.
The same reader sent a second map (below), adding:
The residential properties facing the yacht basin each have deeds that refer to another map recorded with the town. The deeds refer to the parcels being owned, subject to the notes on this map, including the section calling out each lot as having no rights past their property line with the yacht club.
Evan Stein wrote in the comments section that the Saugatuck Shores homeowner who had been warned of trespassing (via kayak) by the yacht club had not Googled deeply enough.
Evan provided a link to a 2008 tax assessment appeal to the town by Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club. Evan then cites relevant details from the ruling:
The subject property consists of 5 parcels aggregating to 14.68 acres of land, 10 acres of which are the land submerged beneath the body of water known as the Duck Pond, which serves at the plaintiff’s yacht basin.
The subject property is not waterfront property in the classic sense, as it is not on the waterfront of Long Island Sound. A boater must navigate from the Duck Pond boat basin through a dredged channel, past the Cedar Point Yacht Club, past the town mooring fields and the town marina in order to reach the open waters of Long Island Sound.
Harbormaster Bob Giunta responded too. He remembers as a child watching Kowalsky Brothers creating the yacht club, by excavating land.
So it appears that yes, Saugatuck Harbordoes indeed own both the land underneath its basin, and the water itself. They do seem to be within their rights to restrict access to it, even by homeowners on its shore.
Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.
However, that does not settle the question of whether they should.
Matthew Mandell writes:
I used to do a lot of whitewater rafting. Many of these rivers ran through paper company land. While we could navigate the river freely, we could not set foot on the shore, unless it was an emergency. Often the company had a dam that generated its power. Deals were worked out to open the dam for an hour to create the bubble of water for rafting. Others were spring melt runoff.
Regardless of land/ownership the yacht club should act more like the paper companies and allow use.
And Deb Alderson raises an interesting point:
If the yacht club owns the land under the Duck Pond, then do the other homeowners around the Duck Pond own waterfront property, or do they own landlocked property with water views?
It used to be that property taxes were bumped up by about 10% for waterfront property. If those properties are paying a premium for waterfront property, they may have a case for a reduction in their taxes. It’s worth asking the question.
Despite living on the basin, this Duck Pond homeowner appears to have no legal access to it.
Last summer, a Westport homeowner walked out of her Saugatuck Shores home. She strolled through her back yard, to the edge of the water. She slipped into her kayak, and paddled a few yards.
Suddenly, she was stopped. A woman from Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club, across the way, yelled that she was trespassing.
“We own the water!” the SHYC representative said. “We reserve it for our members!”
Stunned, the Westport resident retreated.
She’s not alone. A neighbor was reprimanded, the same way.
The Saugatuck Shores homeowner’s back yard.
Commodore Sandy Heller and Vice Commodore Roger Schwanhausser followed up with a letter. They sent it “as neighbors,” with “a significant safety concern for both you and our members.”
The letter continued:
We have received member reports, and have pictures, of kayaks stored on your property being launched by individuals crossing over our property line to access the water and into our Club basin.
This has created navigational hazards and safety to concerns to our members as they transit in and out of our basin. Recently, one of our members nearly collided with a non-member kayaker who was unable or unwilling to yield navigational right of way.
Kayaks, ready — but forbidden — to launch, near Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.
But safety was not the commodores’ only concern.
Further, as you may not know, the Saugatuck Harbor basin is private property. Our Club owns the land under the water, and per Connecticut law, also owns the water above that land up to the mean high tide line.
Any unapproved access to our basin is, therefore, trespass on our property and is not allowed by Connecticut law.
These facts are documented in our deeds and property records, which go back almost 60 years, and are recorded and memorialized at Town Hall in Westport.
We, at Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club, have always strived to maintain good relationships with all our neighbors. We are fully aware of our presence in, what is largely, a residential neighborhood.
We want to be respectful of our neighbors’ privacy, their safety, and their property rights. We would expect the same of you, and request that you refrain from any further access to our basin in the future.
But is it really “their” basin?
The homeowner asked someone in Town Hall’s Conservation office. “She laughed,” the woman says. “She said, ‘No one owns the water!”‘
Kayakers and boaters — not including the Westporter in this story — enjoying the water near Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.
The Westporter — who notes that “people come in with kayaks and paddleboards all the time from the other side of the inlet” — did what any reasonable person would do. She Googled.
She found Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s “Living on the Shore” page. It says:
While much of the Connecticut shore is privately owned, the coastal tidelands actually belong to all the people—not just in terms of our environmental and cultural heritage, but in a specific legal sense as well.
Under the common law public trust doctrine, a body of law dating back to Roman times, coastal states (as sovereigns) hold the submerged lands and waters waterward of the mean high water line in trust for the public.
The general public may freely use these intertidal and subtidal lands and waters, whether they are beach, rocky shore, or open water, for traditional public trust uses such as fishing, shellfishing, boating, sunbathing, or simply walking along the beach.
In Connecticut, a line of state Supreme Court cases dating back to the earliest days of the republic confirms that in virtually every case private property ends at mean high water (the shore elevation, which is the average of all high tides) and that the state holds title as trustee to the lands waterward of mean high water, subject to the private rights of littoral access, that is, access to navigable waters.
What is the boundary of the public trust area?
The public trust area includes submerged lands and waters waterward of mean high water in tidal, coastal, or navigable waters of the state of Connecticut. On the ground, the mean high water boundary of the public trust area can often be determined by a prominent wrack line, debris line, or water mark. In general, if an area is regularly wet by the tides, you are probably safe to assume that it is in the public trust. The public trust area is also sometimes referred to as tidelands and is defined as ”public beach“ by the Connecticut Coastal Management Act, C.G.S. 22a-93(6). While the public trust area extends up navigable rivers, it does not extend inland to areas landward of the mean high water line.
What rights does the public have within the public trust area?
According to the Connecticut courts, public rights to the shore include the
The public has the right to fish and shellfish over submerged lands. Peck v. Lockwood, 5 Day 22 (1811);
The public has the right to pass and repass in navigable rivers. Adams v. Pease, 2 Conn 481 (1818);
The public may gather seaweed between ordinary high water and low water. Chapman v. Kimball, 9 Day 38 (1831);
“Public rights include fishing, boating, hunting, bathing, taking shellfish, gathering seaweed, cutting sedge, and of passing and repassing ….” Orange v. Resnick, 94 Conn 573 (1920);
“It is settled in Connecticut that the public has the right to boat, hunt, and fish on the navigable waters of the state.” State v. Brennan, 3 Conn Cir. 413 (1965).
Although shoreline residents must share the public trust area with their fellow citizens, every coastal property owner enjoys unique legal rights by virtue of owning waterfront land. Just as an upland property owner has the right to access a public road, a coastal property owner has an exclusive right to access navigable water from his or her property.
This coastal right of access is known as a “littoral” or “riparian” right. Technically, “riparian” applies to rivers while “littoral” applies to coastal waters, but the terms are often used interchangeably.
The littoral right of access provides the property owner reasonable access to the water from his or her property.
Reasonable access can be achieved by launching a boat directly from the shore, by use of a mooring, or by constructing a dock suitable for the site conditions and properly permitted by DEEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Littoral access does not imply a right to build whatever size dock or wharf a property owner wishes, nor does it mean that a littoral owner may routinely exclude boats or moorings from the waters in front of his or her property.
In terms of access, navigable waters are equivalent to a public road, and a dock serves the same purpose as a private driveway. A littoral landowner may not exclude the public from lawful uses of navigable water, just as an upland owner cannot exclude the public from driving or walking on the street in front of his or her house. However, a duly authorized dock or other littoral structure is private property, and no one can legally interfere with the exercise of this right of access, just as individuals cannot use or block someone’s driveway.
Seems like the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club neighbor “shore” has a good case.
PS: Someone from SHYC told the Saugatuck Shores resident, “you can join our club.”
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