Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Turner: ‘Tidy up legal situation on Lake Street’
Former trustee wants clarification for road boundaries

by Rob Ireland

July 14, 2011

Fontana — A contentious public battle last summer over the riparian rights on Lake Street seemingly ended when an independent, Madison-based attorney reviewed century-old legal documents and opined that the businesses — not the village — have the right to the water.

Publicly, little has been said about the issue since Hank Gempeler, of Foley and Lardner, provided the village with a report on the lakefront ownership issue, which was the cornerstone of the controversy.

However, Lake Street has never been platted and the legal boundaries of the road remain unclear.

During the visitor's comments portion of the Village Board's June 6 meeting, former Trustee and Community Development Authority Chairman Bill Turner urged the board to "tidy up the legal situation on Lake Street."

"We all know we don't have the proper legal documents for a main road in our village," Turner said. "In my mind it was left undone."

Trustee Thomas McGreevy agrees with Turner and said the issue needs to be put to bed.

"We have wasted enough of our time and money and we wasted enough of their time and money," McGreevy said Friday afternoon.

Throughout last summer the question "who owns the lakefront?" lingered in the forefront of village politics. The controversy began when Lou Loenneke, a former Fontana resident who served on various committees, penned a five-paragraph letter to municipal officials questioning whether the village — not the business owners — had the riparian rights to the water.

The businesses are Chuck's Lake Shore Inn, which is owned by Carol and Jamie Whowell, and Gordy's. Former Village President Tom Whowell is one of the owners of Gordy's.

Turner said he believes the board is apprehensive about revisiting the issue because it doesn't want to incur more legal fees. Although the village's Community Development Authority only initially approved spending $5,000 on the research, the final bill came in at $6,547.

Turner said he has personally spoken to Tom Whowell, who told him he was interested in settling the issue, but not spending more on legal fees.

"I have no dog in the fight," Turner said. "But sooner or later it will come back and bite us you know where."

Turner said he spoke to Tom Whowell directly, who told him he was interested in having the road platted. Although Whowell could not be reached for this story, he has said publicly in the past that he would like to see the road platted.

During last summer's legal battle, Loenneke and Bruce Jensen, a former Fontana resident who has long publicly questioned the ownership of the riparian rights, were the main advocates the village owned the riparian rights.

Loenneke and Jensen pointed to a lawsuit in the 1960s where the village sued the owners of the Lakeview Subdivision to gain control of its riparian rights. The two also considered right-of-way laws for the unplatted roads.

Some public officials are tired of hearing about the issue.

"It is just stupid, it has to be put to bed. We are dealing with people chasing plat maps back to the 1880s," McGreevy said. "I totally agree with Bill Turner, the board has to act on this."

Trustee Patrick Kenny said the issue will eventually have to be resolved, but doesn't seem to be in a hurry to do it.

"I would hate to open up another round of what happened last time," Kenny said.

Kenny said he wouldn't want the village to incur any additional legal fees. He also said there are no immediate plans to complete work on Lake Street near the businesses.

On Dec. 3, 2010, Tom Whowell's attorney, John Maier, wrote a letter to village officials stating the Gordy group hired a surveyor to draft an easement agreement to the village for the road.

Village Administrator Kelly Hayden said Maier submitted an easement to the road, but the Village Board has never acted on it.