In a time when the Townspeople must be concerned about the extra $500 to extend voting hours, I am very concerned that the Townspeople have not been told the truth about the cost and the scope of the effort to throw us off our farm. I do not mean to be abrupt, but I need to tell you the reason for this letter so that you will read on. I have spent $36,000 on one attorney. The Town has two – Town Attorney Frank Eppinger and Special Town Attorney Robert Avena. Hidden somewhere in the proposed Town budget is a big and growing legal bill. We haven’t started litigation and already we have spent that much. If we go to court, I expect my legal bill to be in excess of $100,000. I believe the Town will spend more due to its larger legal team. All this effort and expense for a piece of property that no one wanted for 7 years and whose function ended for lack of interest.
The Town is acting as if they do not have a downside in this issue. They have a huge downside and very little upside.
More concerning is that Town could have a liability of over $1,000,000. Due to a clause in insurance policies called “subrogation”, if the title company has to pay out money to me for a loss of value or if I lose my land entirely, the title insurance company then has the right to pursue whomsoever caused them to have to make that payout.
My name is Van Brown. With my family, I own and farm Firefly Farms, which was the abandoned YMCA camp.
The Plan of Conservation and Development calls not only for supporting farms, but for encouraging specialty farms. We grow organic chicken, one of the few in New England, and organic pork, one of the few in the United States. We are helping to save a critically endangered pig called a Mulefoot. There are only 1,000 in the world and we have 15 of them with 5 separate breeding lines. This small herd is one of the biggest in the US and those 5 lines make us one of the largest breeders.
We are taxpayers and employers. 2 of our 5 employees are North Stonington residents. 2 are very young. It is hard for a young person to find a good job with a future. We are committed to North Stonington and support the Wheeler Library, the North Stonington Business Association and we sponsor a North Stonington Little League team – Go Giants! That was fun.
In 1972 Mr. Brown, Mr. Oat and Mr. Dahl sold or gave to the YMCA 127 acres of land that had a reverter clause in the deed that stated should the Y ever cease to own the land the property should go to the Town of North Stonington as open space.
The Y wanted to dam Miller Brook to flood the wetlands to make a lake. In 1987, the Y traded Mr. David Geer 28 acres, still covered by the reverter, for 35 acres of wetland to make the lake. Mr. Geer put a reverter on the 35 acres exactly like the original reverter.
The Y was already in financial trouble and wanted the option to borrow against the property to build the lake and to bolster the finances of the organization. The Y was able to sell its Gungywump property instead. The lake project was dropped. Borrowing was postponed.
In 1989, signed by Nick Mullane, the Town released ALL the land sold by Brown, Oat and Dahl. That release allows Tim Suchocki to now own the 28 acres and allows my family to own Firefly Farms. That release is on record, Volume 81 Page 37. A copy will be supplied.
The release was 23 years ago. That is a long time to go without correcting a mistake, if it were a mistake, especially since public record governs ownership. No matter what you have been told, we don’t believe it was an error. Nick has made a public comment saying it was not a mistake.
The Town now claims that release was in error even though in a July 2009 article in the Day regarding selling the camp, First Selectman Nick Mullane stated he remembers the Town Meeting where the Y release was approved. “People said that the YMCA was not going to go out of business.”
My neighbor, Mr. Marc Jaffan and I were the only serious bidders. In a very odd story, Mr. Jaffan was awarded the property over my higher bid.
Apparently Mr. Jaffan’s became aware that the issue of charitable intent might have bearing on the matter. In May, 2010, Mr. Jaffan arranged for title insurance to protect himself from loss for up to $645,000 for the possibility that the State of Connecticut might rule that the property was covered by charitable intent and that the Town’s release was invalid. It appears he wanted to buy the property in spite of the possibility of charitable intent. A copy of the commitment letter and endorsement is will be supplied.
In 2010, I was asked by the Y to become involved again. The Day has a number of articles showing the evolution of the bidders for the property. In The Day, October, 2009, “Buyer found” (un-named Mr. Jaffan) to The Day, October, 2010, “there are at least two interested parties” (Mr. Jaffan and me).
Until November 2010, the Town was only claiming rights in the 35 acre property which still had a valid reverter. The Day, October 2010, reports the Town is trying to find buyers for the property and that it would sell its reverter interest in the 35 acres for $20,000. July 6, 2010, Nick Mullane wrote a letter to the YMCA attorney on behalf of the Town offering to sell its interest in the 35 acres still covered by a valid reverter. “An alternate to your proposal, which the Board of Selectmen prefer, is for the Town to outright release any and all interests in the land for a sum of $20,000 and the Town would then be free to purchase open space in another part of Town to further the Town's open space plan.” This was intended for Mr. Jaffan, but Nick gave me a copy. Copies of the articles and the letter will be posted.
By late October and early November, Mr. Jaffan was out of the competition. We had an agreement in principle (again) with the YMCA. On November 22, 2010, Town Attorney Frank Eppinger, who had been our attorney until just a few weeks prior to that date, sent a letter to Chelsea Groton Bank. The bank had started a foreclosure procedure. Attorney Eppinger stated that the release of the reverter was unauthorized, that charitable intent was in effect and that the land was the Town’s.
Despite his efforts to buy the property, Mr. Jaffan has remained very supportive of the Town’s efforts to have us lose our farm and has organized several very well-intentioned people to oppose us as well. He claims in a letter he wrote to the Attorney General to have spent 10’s of thousands of dollars in “research” to help the Town.
We believe we have evidence that there is no charitable intent, but if there is, then Tim’s release is invalid and my release is invalid.
The Town knows about Tim being thrown under the bus along with me. My attorney Dick Dixon and both Town attorneys have discussed this. The Town knows about the potential liability to the Town from subrogation. Attorney Dixon has discussed this with Special Town Attorney Avena.
This is what constitutes the $1,000,000+ potential liability. I am insured for by Chicago Title. They would probably pay for my attorney’s fees. Tim will have a substantial loss and attorney’s fees. The title insurance company will have spent a staggering amount in legal fees. If the Town in anyway decreases the value of Tim’s property or my farm, the title insurance companies may look to the Town.
They won’t have to look far. The Town claims it is their error that caused all this. This admission was in a May 8, 2012 letter to the Attorney General. Frank Eppinger in a November 22, 2010, letter to Chelsea Groton Bank states the Town released the property without authorization.
The YMCA, Chelsea Groton Bank, Eastern Federal Bank, Mr. Geer and now Mr. Suchocki relied on that release. I relied on that release. The State of Connecticut relied on that release when it liened the property for unpaid employment taxes.
I will supply copies of newspaper articles and letters from the Town and Mr. Jaffan which support my statements. There are even copies of letters from the Special Town Attorney and from Mr. Jaffan to the Connecticut Attorney General stating the “fact” that Firefly Farm “abuts”, is “contiguous with” and is “adjacent to” significant conservation properties, even though the nearest conservation property mentioned is 1,600 feet away, 5,280 feet being a mile, across the Suchocki Sand and Gravel pit and then 6,700 feet and 9,700 feet away respectively.
If the Town does get our property, you should know that land was a magnet for teenage parties, vandals and thieves. Think of the insurance and liability of all those buildings and that big, empty swimming pool. Our troopers are overworked already.
Win or lose, the Town will have a huge liability. We would be happy to pay the Town the $20,000 they asked for the 35 acres. We would like to take part of our forestry land and put it into 490 farm land. We would have to pay the Town up to $50,000 for tax recapture to do that. That is $70,000 plus our taxes for the Townspeople to use.
Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this. Please attend the Special Town Meeting.