WELLFLEET — If Chellise and Kevin Sexton win their case against the Wellfleet Housing Authority, now in its final stage in Land Court, not only will 12 units of affordable housing be lost to the town but the owners of five houses on Delphi Path will lose the right to access their properties.
Final filings have been made in the four-year-old suit, brought by Chellise Sexton of Eastham and her son Kevin of Wellfleet, in which the pair claim they own the property now called Fred Bell Way, where 12 units of affordable housing were built 18 years ago. They have asked the court to order the town off the property, invalidate the utility easements, and award them title to the land as well as damages for rents and profits connected to its use.
The Sextons also seek to nullify easements across the land, granted by the town in 1999, that provide Delphi Path residents with the sole access to their homes. The road branches off Fred Bell Way.
The property in dispute is an 8.6-acre tract at 324 Old Kings Highway that was taken by the town from Ralph Whitcher for unpaid taxes in 1967.
In 1993, town meeting turned ownership over to the housing authority, which signed a 60-year lease in 2001 with the Lower Cape Community Development Corp., now the Community Development Partnership (CDP). The Eastham-based nonprofit built 12 units of affordable housing there and continues to manage them.
The Sextons trace their claim to ownership of 324 Old King’s Highway back to 1829. Title experts for the Sextons and the town agree on the chain of ownership as far as 1922. They then diverge. The Sextons claim the property was conveyed to Edwin Cook and passed down to Chellise Cook Cardinal, who conveyed it to her daughter, Chellise Sexton, in 1985. The defendants argue that the supposed deeds actually refer to a different parcel of land.
The first phase of the trial will decide whether the Sextons have title to the land. If they prevail, they will pursue possession of the property in the second phase. If the town is found to have a superior title, the case will end.
Land Court Judge Robert Foster will listen to final arguments at a post-trial hearing in Boston on Sept. 30.
According to attorney Zachary Berk, representing the CDP and other entities connected to the mortgages held on the property, the judge will likely make his decision on the first phase in the next three to six months.
Wendy Drobnyk and Stephen Soumerai, who own a house at 135 Delphi Path, signed on as intervenors to defend their easement rights. The Sextons have asked the court to invalidate those rights, which would affect all the property owners on Delphi Path.
Drobnyk and Soumerai, who live in Brookline, purchased their lot in 2004 for $300,000 and built a second home.
“Nobody would have ever bought their property if they had known it wouldn’t have access to their house,” said Soumarai on Sunday. He feels confident in the outcome of the court case. “We have solid legal title, and it includes the right to use the easement, and that’s key,” he said.
The Fred Bell Way case is one in a string of suits the Sextons have filed over the years to take title to other people’s properties.
In 2003, Chellise Sexton claimed in Barnstable Superior Court that she held the title to 521 Old King’s Highway. The court denied that claim.
It took 20 years for Robert Paine Jr., owner of a campground on Old King’s Highway, to secure his rights following a challenge by the Sextons. He then sold the campground to the state Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.
The Healey family lost their property at 120 Sapokonish Way, which had been in their family since the 1950s, to Sexton in 2010 after a six-year court battle. The Healeys couldn’t claim adverse possession — which was how Paine finally won his case — because they stayed at the property only in the summers. Sexton subsequently built a house there, where Kevin Sexton now lives. The property is currently assessed at $1.36 million.
Kevin Sexton is embroiled in another Land Court battle against the Wellfleet Zoning Board of Appeals over the family’s property next to LeCount Hollow Beach. He is appealing a cease and desist order issued by the town’s former building commissioner and upheld by the zoning board. Sexton had cleared a large swath of woods on his property. The building commissioner determined Sexton had violated zoning laws governing the National Seashore District, in which the property is located.