Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Village looks to end Lake Street drama
Trustee Ad Hoc Committee will negotiate street easement with lakefront business owners

by Rob Ireland

August 11, 2011

FONTANA — Lake Street has never been platted, leaving the boundaries between private property and public land unclear.

During the August Village Board meeting, the board appointed an Ad Hoc Committee — consisting of Trustees Bill Gage, Cynthia Wilson and Patrick Kenny — to meet with the Lake Street business owners to remove the mystery of the road's boundaries.

The motion was approved on a 5-1 vote with Trustee Peg Pollitt voting against it.

Last summer, during a contentious public battle, the village's Community Development Authority hired attorney Hank Gempeler to investigate whether the Lake Street business owners, or the village posses the riparian rights to Geneva Lake.

Although the independent, Madison-based attorney opined that the business owners — not the village — have the riparian rights to Geneva Lake, the boundaries of Lake Street have never been determined.

Last month, former Community Development Authority Chairman Bill Turner asked the Village Board to "tidy up the legal situation."

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

Pollitt, who was the only trustee to vote against the Ad Hoc Committee, said the issue needs to be settled using a declaratory judgment, which is when a judge renders a legal decision.

"It has to go to a judge, I've said that all along," Pollitt said.

Village Attorney Dale Thorpe said to receive a declaratory judgment, the village would have to file a lawsuit against the business owners, which would likely create expensive legal fees.

"The last lawsuit went on for eight or nine years," Thorpe said.

Trustee Thomas McGreevy said the issue needs to end, and he has viewed the title reports for both businesses.

"The title reports say they own to the high-water mark," McGreevy said.

The legal battle began last summer after Lou Loenneke penned a five-paragraph letter questioning the ownership. Bruce Jensen, who has long publicly questioned who owns the riparian rights to the lakefront, also was engaged in the debate. Jensen wasn't satisfied with Gempeler's opinion letter and criticized the attorney, stating he ignored important documents.

"The opinion letter sucks," Jensen said after it was released.

During the August Village Board meeting, Jensen and Loenneke were in the audience. Loenneke didn't speak, but Jensen asked questions and made requests.

"I would like the village to go to court for a declaratory judgment," Jensen said. "If something gets settled between the Village Board and the trustees, is that permanent?"

Thorpe said if the agreement is done correctly, it will be permanent. Jensen asked if he could meet with the Ad Hoc Committee to discuss the issue, which Trustee George Spadoni immediately said the Village Board should deny. However, no formal motion was taken on whether Jensen could meet with the committee.

On Aug. 2, the day after the meeting, Spadoni said if Jensen wants to litigate the issue he should do so on his own dime.

"If Jensen wants to do anthing he has every ability to file litigation on his own," Spadoni said. "He has no right to spend the village's money in legal fees on this issue."