Couple, city at odds over pier

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Kayla Bunge
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
— Pamela and Terry Johnson say they’re being bullied by a couple of people who have an axe to grind.

Former alderman Ed Yaeger says the Johnsons’ Marina Bay Boat Rentals has a pier in the water that’s longer than what’s permitted by city ordinance.

City Attorney Dan Draper says the city always has intended to enforce its pier ordinance, but previous city councils have allowed the Marina Bay pier to exist in violation of the ordinance.

But a November 2002 agreement between the city and Marina Bay—the last agreement on file in Walworth County court—only allowed the pier to remain at 154 feet until the end of the 2007 boating season. Come the start of the 2008 boating season, the pier was to be reduced to the required 100 feet.

That didn’t happen, and the city council took up the issue at its regular meeting June 23.

Things got confusing after a number of motions, amendments and votes. Well into the 10 o'clock hour, the city council voted 4-3 to enforce the ordinance immediately, requiring Marina Bay to reduce its pier to 100 feet.

Mayor William Chesen on June 25 vetoed the action because the vote was in conflict with two previous votes, the first to allow the Marina Bay pier to remain at 154 feet through the end of the 2008 season and the second to have Marina Bay present an alternative plan to the city July 14.

Draper said the issue is still up for discussion.

Pamela Johnson said what the issue boils down to is “small-town politics.” She declined to say whether she and her husband will present an alternative plan to the city next week, but she said they’re not going to just let go of the issue.

“We are nothing but pillars to this lake,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to give up.”

Yaeger said he has “nothing personal” against the Johnsons, but the city must enforce its ordinance.

“I don’t think it’s fair to all the rest of the people around the lake who have to conform to the 100-foot ordinance,” he said. “There’s no good reason not to enforce it.”

Decade-long dispute

The heart of the issue actually goes back to 1898, when the lakefront property known as Baker Park at the intersection of Center Street and Wrigley Drive was transferred to the city from the original owners.

Under the agreement, successors of the original dedicators have a right to build on the lakefront, including a pier.

When the Johnsons established Marina Bay Boat Rentals in 1979, they built a 165-foot pier.

In 1983, the Johnsons leased a 61-foot section of lakefront property from Lakeside Habitat Development, a successor to the Lake Geneva Sanitarium, one of the original dedicators.

The city established an ordinance in 1986 limiting piers to 100 feet. The Marina Bay pier was “grandfathered in,” Johnson said.

In 1995, Lakeside Habitat Development sold interest in the property to Harbor Cove Development, and the Johnsons signed essentially the same lease.

The Johnsons first took the city to court in May 1997, when the city demanded the Marina Bay comply with city ordinance. The parties reached an agreement in May 1998 that required the pier be reduced to 154 feet at the start of the 1999 season and then to 100 feet at the start of the 2003 season.

The parties reached a second agreement in November 2002 that allowed the Johnsons to maintain the pier at 154 feet through the 2007 season. The pier was to be reduced at the start of the 2008 season.

The 154-foot Marina Bay pier was installed in May, and the city council tabled the issue at its May 27 meeting. It was revisited at the June 9 meeting and then forwarded again to the June 23 meeting.

Yaeger, a former chairman of the city piers and harbors committee, said it’s up to the city to enforce its ordinances and it shouldn’t be selective in its enforcement because of a business’ longstanding presence.

Last updated: 9:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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