TRURO — The owner of property at the top of Sylvan Lane has sued her neighbors in Land Court to settle once and for all her right to use a long dirt road to access her two acres of undeveloped land. Because she is looking to sell the land as a building lot, she wants to ensure that right will extend to any future owners of the parcel.
Julianne Britt, who purchased 31 Sylvan Lane in 2005 for $275,000, wants the court to grant her a “prescriptive easement” along the private road that provides the sole access to her property from Route 6. Such an easement is established by demonstrating a history of regular use. Past owners of her property, she argued, had used the dirt road since the mid-1800s.
The lot at 31 Sylvan is a large rectangle, shallow and long. It lies between Sylvan Lane and the Cape Cod National Seashore. The tract has passed through generations of the Dyer family dating back to the 1850s; they used it for nature walks, blueberry picking, and access to the Seashore.
In the 1950s, a 30-acre tract between the Dyer lot and Route 6 was purchased by a developer who subdivided it into a couple of dozen house lots. The cart path used by the Dyers to get to their property from Route 6, via Whitmanville Road, became the sole road into the development and was named Sylvan Lane.
It has remained a private way, maintained by the abutting property owners. Travelers on Sylvan Lane must drive slowly, avoiding the many divots in the dirt and gravel road. While all but two of the subdivision’s lots currently have houses on them, the area feels remote.
The Dyer property was not part of the subdivision, but the family continued to access their land via Sylvan Lane, and nobody complained.
When Britt bought 31 Sylvan Lane from Sam and Otis Dyer in 2005, they attested on the quitclaim deed that access to the site was via Sylvan Lane. They submitted separate affidavits regarding the historical access as well.
But when Britt attempted to sell her land as a building lot three years ago, she ran into problems over access rights. Initially, she tried to get signed easements over Sylvan Lane from neighbors in the subdivision. Fourteen signed off, but 10 did not, leaving her no alternative but to go to court.
The case was filed in late March by attorney Robert Mendillo, who works for First American Title Insurance Company. Britt had purchased a policy from the company.
In the suit, Mendillo asks the court for a declaratory judgment that Britt has the right to use Sylvan Lane and that the right will run with the property.
No one has ever prevented Britt, nor the Dyers before her, from driving on Sylvan Lane by posting notices such as no trespassing signs or with verbal challenges, noted Mendillo in the suit.
Still, the attorney wrote, there were signs of possible trouble brewing shortly after Britt bought the land. Every few years, a road maintenance committee, made up of home owners in the neighborhood, sent out a request for funds to pay for road grading, plowing, and other work. The Dyers had paid $300 toward roadwork in 2004.
Britt received a letter requesting road maintenance money in 2006, and she sent a check for $600. But a few weeks later, it was sent back to her uncashed and without explanation. Shortly before the return of her check, Britt had gone to town officials to discuss developing her lot.
In 2010, Britt received an invitation to a neighborhood meeting to discuss road maintenance. When she arrived, she was not allowed in, she said. Mendillo states in the court documents that neighbors may have “sought to prevent Britt from building.”
During its three years on the market, the asking price for Britt’s lot dropped from $349,000 to $249,000, according to Nick Brown, the real estate broker who listed it. There had been prospective buyers, but the deal could never close due to the access question.
Also evident on Britt’s lot is a well-used path that leads from Sylvan Lane to the National Seashore, just 100 feet away. Asked whether she would grant an easement to allow neighbors continued use of that path, Britt deferred to her attorney, who did not respond to the Independent.
The defendants have asked New York attorney John Dorfman to represent them. Only two of the several who were contacted responded to the Independent, and they declined to comment. Dorfman said he could not comment because he technically was not yet representing the group — he was waiting for the court to act on his request to do so.
Defendants in the suit are Deborah Lamoreux and Anne Knowlton of 6 Sylvan Lane; Gregory Taylor and Deborah Mell-Taylor of 7 Sylvan Lane; Gerald Fitzpatrick and Sarah Loewe of 10 Sylvan Lane and Chelmsford; Timothy Pace Pearson and Alexandra Elam of 2 Twining Road and New York City; Grace Freundlich of 14 Sylvan Lane; Christine Winder of 2 Turnbuckle Way; Peter Romanelli of 8 Sylvia’s Way; Henry and Joan Erle of 22 Sylvan Lane and New York City; Curtis P. Hartman of 4 Sylvia’s Way; and Henry and Josephine Yurek of 27 and 29 Sylvan Lane and New Rochelle, N.Y.