This land is my land…this land is your land? - 110 responses 110 responses

May 14, 2014

When one buys a piece of land, it is generally accepted that such an individual is now the sole owner of that particular piece of property. Such logic becomes muddied, however, for landowners whose property blocks access to publicly owned lands—especially if its use has been allowed in the past. In Rye, such a dilemma has reached the Rockingham County Superior Court, which will determine this summer if Wentworth by the Sea Country Club can restrict the public's use of Sanders Poynt to access Little Harbor Beach.

In asking Live Free or Die Alliance (LFDA) Facebook members their opinion on the broader question, “Should landowners be allowed to block the public from using their land to access public beaches, even if such use has been allowed in the past?” the response was decidedly mixed. 38 percent of respondents said landowners do not possess such a right, 23 percent said they did, while 39 percent expressed a wide variety of opinions that reveal the issue’s fundamental complexity. In total, the LFDA received 110 citizen responses, including specific comments from 61 individuals supported by 47 concurrences.

For those who felt landowners possess no such right to restrict access, one gentleman’s comment best sums up the position, as he said, “Historic easements need to be recognized.” This simple statement was immediately followed by a qualifier from another respondent, who rhetorically noted, “Or what is the point of them if they will be discarded?”

For those who disagreed with such sentiments, however, prior use of any privately owned land should have no bearing on today. Remarked one respondent, “It’s their land unless the town or state is willing to give them a break on their taxes, or pay them—it is their land.”

The question sparked a wide range of opinions, though—many of which could not be neatly categorized, as several respondents expressed a desire to learn more about the particular easement at issue. Others cited an easement’s validity as directly proportional to how long it had been in use. One respondent saw both sides, though, as she said, “The oceanfront is owned by the country and the people. That said, you ought to be able to put a fence around your yard that you are paying taxes on…Just because people trespass for 20 years does not make it public way.”

Click here to see the full Facebook discussion of this question.

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