Dooley Real Estate
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dooley real estate falls village ct

ST JOHN'S PEAK AT KENT
PAST AND PRESENT
by Paul Dooley

In the mid-1980’s, the 500-plus acre tract that eventually became the St. John’s Peak at Kent subdivision was a wild, seldom-visited place beyond the ends of two abandoned town roads. It was owned by two men from Bridgeport, Norman Parsells and Newman Marsilius, who bought it in 1958 for $21,000 to use as a hunting and camping retreat. I met Norm in the early 80’s when we were both on the Board of Directors of the Housatonic Valley Association. He would tell me about the large tract he and his partner owned which had a hunting cabin and old cemetery on it somewhere north of North Spectacle Lake. He made it sound remote and it was. He told me of once getting his Jeep stuck in a quagmire and of having to spend the night because he was afraid of getting lost trying to walk out in the dark.

Early in 1986, Norm asked me what the property might bring if he and Newman were to sell it. I guessed around $2 million, adding that I had never ventured that far north of the lake and wasn’t sure I could find the parcel if I did. Norm assured me that the boundaries had all been blazed by a logging company, but the abandoned roads were a little iffy. (As it turned out, a boundary marking by the logging company was not particularly accurate – as subsequent surveys and a lawsuit would determine.) We agreed to list it and were preparing the paperwork when Norm passed away. Several months went by before Newman and Mrs. Parsells put the property on the market – right in time for the real estate and subdivision boom that hit mid-year and lasted well into 1987 then cratered with a number of projects going to the banks that had financed them (which is another story for another time).

The land that became St. John’s Peak at Kent closed on 31 December 1986 for $1,625,000. The buyers, John Marvin, William Davies and Roger Frechette, were successful business and professional men who saw a market for large, private, restricted building lots for the second home market. They retained a local land planner and surveyor and set about the subdivision process. Had they known what the next fifteen years would hold, they might well have chosen another endeavor.

Where’s the Land?
The first issue to arise involved a survey. Newman Marsilius and Mrs. Parcells had insisted that the sale take place in 1986 before the new tax law took effect in 1987. So hot was the speculative frenzy for large subdividable parcels in 1986, the buyers agreed to close without a survey and only crudely marked boundaries. When they finally were able to engage a surveyor who wasn’t busy making small parcels out of other large pieces, they found that there were questions about the southern boundary (questions that later resulted in a lawsuit, the result of which was that a tract south of the present connector road was awarded to a local man who claimed it as part of his father’s farm). They found, however, additional land on the northern border of the property in the vicinity of Old Paddock Lane, so the gross acreage remained roughly the same.

Where’s St. John’s Peak?
The land form known as St. John’s Peak may or may not be in the subdivision. The U.S. Geodetic Survey map (Kent Quadrangle) places it just to the west of the northern portion of the subdivision’s western boundary. It is named, as are the dramatic ledges across the Housatonic, for an early local family. The more prominent natural feature on the property is Mauwee Peak, named for Gideon Mauwee, a sachem of the Schaghticoke Indians whose reservation is on the west bank of the Housatonic. Gideon Mauwee’s granddaughter, Eunice, lived to be 104 and is buried in the reservation cemetery.

So How Did Mount Mauwee Become Mount Maumee?
A typographical error, actually. After the developers filed their partnership papers and Subdivision Declaration with the Secretary of State, they discovered that the typist had misspelled Mauwee. It was easier and more practical to call themselves the Mount Maumee Partnership than to redo and refile all of the subdivision documentation. The next time you have nothing better to read, check the Declaration and Public Offering Statement you received at closing and you’ll find the point at which a “w” was turned upside down to become an “m”. But don’t bother looking for Maumee Peak or Mount Maumee on a map. It was and still is Mount Mauwee located just above the mountaintop marsh that is the headwater for Mauwee Brook.

Private Cemetery
Most people don’t know that the subdivision contains a private cemetery which is located between Lots 21 and 24 south of Old Homestead Lane (so named because of the remnants of the old farmhouse and barns across from the entrance to the cemetery). Daniel and Martha Parcells lived on and farmed the land in the 19th century. Martha Worden Parcells died in May of 1890 of “accidental burning,” perhaps in a house fire. Her gravestone reads “Mother is at Rest.” She was joined by her husband, Daniel, fifteen years later who was actively farming and putting up hay at age 80. The Mount Maumee Partners deeded the 2500 square-foot parcel to the Kent Cemetery Association for permanent protection and stewardship. The fence enclosing the plot was paid for by their nephew, William, who provided for its construction in his will.

What Took So Long?
The subdivision was formally approved in May of 1989 with a long list of notations and conditions. It was, and still is, the largest parcel ever brought to the Commission for subdivision approval. It was also the most remote. Lying well north of North Spectacle Lake, it was reachable only over abandoned town roads (Kenico, which stopped just past the former Camp Kenico, and Gay Road, which was an extension of Ken-Mont Road and ended at the Bromica complex). The approved plan called for the building of roads not only within the subdivision but to it. And the abandoned roads had to be accurately located before the new ones could be built.

Once the project was approved, the developer’s first task was to build the miles of road contemplated by the plan – a Herculean task under the best of circumstances. In the case of St. John’s Peak, it became a nightmare for the developers. First, they had to post a performance bond with the Town and arrange a line of credit with their bank to fund the construction. They brought in a managing partner who engaged a road builder and drew down the line of credit, exhausting it before the roads were completed. At about the same time the bank failed, the letter of credit for the performance bond turned to dust in the Selectmen’s vault, and the road builder left the job. Litigation ensued and eventually the road builder was compelled to complete the job and the bond was refinanced. But a lot of time had passed. By 1997 the work was nearing completion, but a clock was ticking. Connecticut statute requires that the public improvements in a subdivision be completed and accepted within ten years of the approval date. The law, intended to protect the public from never-completed infra-structure, provides that the subdivision approval shall lapse if the roads, sidewalks, sewers, etc. are not completed in the ten-year time frame.

One suspects that St. John’s Peak at Kent was not the only subdivision in Connecticut facing the expiration of its approval and that the legislature contemplated subdividers facing expiration would submit new applications for their projects. But in Kent it wasn’t going to be that simple. In the mid-1990’s, the Kent Planning and Zoning Commission adopted new Subdivision Regulations – regulations which significantly altered the geometry and standards for subdivisions (length and number of lots on a cul de sac, for example). The dilemma faced by St. John’s Peak was that the plan that was approved in 1989 couldn’t be approved under the new standards, even though most of the roads had been built. Saddle Ridge south of the village faced the same problem (we’ll write about that experience in another piece). Eventually, the developers and the Commission worked out a deal that allowed the completion of the plan as originally approved and gave the Commission some additional concessions. But it was over ten years from approval to completion and the formal release of all the bonds.

By then the Mount Maumee Partners had, understandably, lost enthusiasm for the likely long process of marketing lots. They listed the project with us as a package, hoping to find a developer who wanted to build out the neighborhood. Over the next year and a half, a number stepped forward – none had the resources to close.

What’s With the Rights of Way?
Look at a copy of the subdivision map and you’ll see a right-of-way running north into the State Forest. This was created to give the State access to what was a landlocked section of Wyantenock State Forest and was part of a trade-off with the State in which the State agreed to drop its objections to the reopening of Kenico/Gorham through one portion of its property in return for access to another. The other two rights-of-way, now owned by the Association, lead to a large parcel owned by Aino Skinner on the western boundary of the subdivision. These were created in the planning stages of the subdivision when the partners were thinking of adding some or all of the Skinner property to St. John’s Peak. It wasn’t then for sale and years of mounting expenses and problems cooled the partners’ taste for expansion. Now the Skinner property is on the market (108 acres for $795,000) and the two rights-of-way are perhaps the most economical way to access it.

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