It wasn’t long after he bought a new two-story house across the street from the beach that Daniel Alvino realized life in the Misquamicut section of Westerly wasn’t going to be all sun and sand.
Alvino’s house on the north side of Atlantic Avenue is just a few steps from a public path that leads between the beachfront homes on the south side of the street and down to the water. On either side of the path the owners of those beachfront retreats had erected fences to keep people off of the beach in front of their property.
With each year, Alvino said, the fences got longer, hemming beachgoers either inside the 12-foot right of way or so close to the water they ended up in the surf.
“They just kind of pushed us into the right-of-way until one day we were sitting confined between fences on either side and water lapping at our feet,” he said.
Fifteen years of neighborly animosity and failed compromises since Alvino moved to Misquamicut, a process is underway to settle where on the beach they can freely walk. In the fall of 2012, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin sued seven beachfront property owners in an attempt to win legal public access to the sand.
The case has inched along since then and is now being argued in Superior Court.
The argument focuses on roughly 2.5 miles of sand east of the undisputedly public Misquamicut State Beach, in a stretch of the coastline developed at the beginning of the 20th century.
Kilmartin argues that the original 1909 subdivision drawing for the area includes a 90-foot-wide public-access corridor between the ocean and the newly created lots.
That public-access corridor was eventually wiped out on subsequent land records, especially through a 1969 survey plan, the suit argues, by property owners who didn’t want other people on the beach.
The defendant beachfront property owners, whose number has swelled from the original seven named by Kilmartin to 13, say the attorney general is reading the 1909 plat wrong: the original developers never meant to create any public-access corridor.