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Questioning lakefront ownership

Whowell family 100 percent certain it's theirs

July 14, 2010 | 08:50 AM
Fontana — Once again, the question is being asked, "Who owns the lakefront?"

On June 17, Fontana resident Lou Loenneke sent a letter to the village that questioned the ownership of the lakefront and whether Gordy's and Chuck's Lake Shore Inn have the riparian rights.

However, as far as the lakefront business owners are concerned, they own the rights to the lakefront.

The business owners have deeds to the property, made improvements and pay taxes as lakefront owners.

"The Whowell family is 100 percent certain that it owns the lakefront," according to a letter Thomas Whowell sent to the village on July 7.

However, Loenneke's concerns were enough to get the village's Community Development Authority to spend up to $5,000 in legal fees to have the issue researched.

Loenneke and the owners of Chuck's and Gordy's will provide information to Village Attorney Dale Thorpe about the issue.

Throughout the years, Thorpe has informally collected information about the ownership of the lakefront, but has never reached a conclusion of ownership.

Thorpe said the information he has collected isn't a complete and can't be used to determine who owns the lakefront rights.

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Loenneke reviewed the information Thorpe collected, and other sources, and believes the village has riparian rights along Lake Street.

"After looking through this information I have an even stronger feeling that the village does own the rights to the lakefront," Loenneke wrote in his letter.

However, the Whowell's point to bills of sale, surveys, title policies, title insurance, building permits issued to his family for work on both sides of the lakefront as proof of ownership.

"We would strongly encourage the village to disregard Lou's letter or any other challenge to our ownership without a body of supporting evidence equal to or greater than the examples we have listed above," Whowell stated.

Both Gordy's and Chuck's had lakefront rights before they were purchased by the Whowell family.

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One of the reasons Loenneke questions the ownership of the lakefront is because of the width of Lake Street, which he believes should be wider.

"I have done some research, about the state of Wisconsin and laws that were passed in the 1840s regarding roads," Loenneke said. "Roads in Wisconsin, according to state law, are 66 feet wide."

He said in the past, the lakefront properties in question didn't have rights to both side of the street.

"I have pictures of a two-way road, with parking on the east and west side of the road," Loenneke said. "There are documents from the state and county to backup the information."

He also points to pier permit requests filed by previous owners of the property.

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"I would ask the logical question, if you own the property on the lakefront, why ask the village to for a permit put a pier in," he said.

Referendum question

In Whowell's letter, he writes the Loenneke's concerns are part of an effort to defeat the upcoming lakefront referendum.

"It should be obvious to all of you that the suggestion, "to pursue this before doing all our lakefront improvements" is a blatant effort to kill the referendum, a project which many of you have worked hard to achieve and a project which we also believe is in the best interests of the community," Whowell wrote in his letter.

On Sept. 14, voters will decide whether the village should spend up to $2.8 million to reconstruct Lake Street, the adjacent parking lot and construct a Lakefront Activity Building.

Loenneke said his intention isn't an attempt to defeat the referendum.

"It is no way an attempt to do that," he said. "It is an attempt to find out who owns the lakefront."

Loenneke also served on the committee that helped design the lakefront building.

"I think it's a great building," Loenneke said.

Loenneke's letter isn't the first time the ownership of the lakefront has come into question. Bruce Jensen also questioned the ownership of the lakefront in 2005.

On May 2, 2005, the Village Board held a closed session meeting and discussed some of Jensen's concerns.

At that time, the board directed the village attorney to write a letter to Jensen stating it would not be looking into the matter.

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