A motion by the Town of East Hampton to throw out a case filed against it by the Ellis family over establishing further access to Lake Montauk was dismissed by New York State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher on June 28.
Harry Ellis sued after the town attempted to clear a parcel just south of his house on East Lake Drive in Montauk and open it to the public. “I didn’t want to file a suit against the town that would cost the taxpayers money, but the gun was put to my head,” he said.
The justice’s decision states that the town did not offer enough evidence to contradict Mr. Ellis’s claim. It said the case could proceed, as there remains a reasonable doubt as to the ownership of the land in question.
Last year a group of citizens who believe Lake Montauk does not have enough public access studied old files and maps and identified the parcel as being town-owned. But Mr. Ellis disputes that, saying members of his family have used it as part of a driveway since 1975, when they bought the house, which sits just south of a nature preserve on East Lake Drive. He claims that a 50-foot right of way was issued to Robert Bullock in 1930, when he owned the property.
Over the winter Mr. Ellis spent much of his time in the county clerk’s office in Riverhead researching waterfront land titles in Montauk. “I consider myself a historian by now,” he said. He presented most of his findings to the justice in the case, which names the Town of East Hampton, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Larry Penny, who is the town’s natural resources director, and the Department of Natural Resources as defendants.
When people started using the nature preserve as a beach and driving four-wheel drive vehicles down to the shore, the town tried to identify other parcels that could be opened to the public, including the heavily overgrown one next to the Ellis family residence.
Some claimed that Mr. Ellis was preventing them from walking on the beach in front of his house or from using the overgrown land as a path to the beach, which he denies. “Just because I live next door to the property doesn’t mean I’m encumbered by its maintenance,” he said.
Mr. Ellis hired an attorney, Jim Henry of Sag Harbor, who filed the suit. He did not return calls for comment. Mr. Ellis said he quite honestly doesn’t know who owns the property. “That’s now in the court’s hands.”
Carl Irace, an East Hampton Town attorney, said he wouldn’t comment on pending litigation, but said, “It was only a preliminary motion that was dismissed.” He said the town has a lot more work to do to get the paperwork together for the next step. “Now we move on to discovery and collecting information,” he said.