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Lake Geneva pier battle stands in judge’s hands

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Kayla Bunge
July 28, 2010
— The years-long battle between Terry and Pamela Johnson and the city of Lake Geneva over a pier that is longer than allowed by city ordinance now is in the hands of a Walworth County judge.

The Johnsons, who own Marina Bay Boat Rentals at 300 Wrigley Drive, were ordered in 2008 to reduce the length of their pier to comply with an ordinance that limits piers to 100 feet long.


But they installed their 154-foot pier for the season.


The Johnsons again were ordered in 2009 to reduce the length of their pier to comply with the ordinance. They filed a lawsuit against the city for attempting to “selectively enforce” its pier-length ordinance.


Lisle Blackbourn, the attorney representing the couple and their business, and Ted Waskowski, the attorney representing the city, each filed motions for summary judgment.


The attorneys continued to argue their motions Tuesday.


Blackbourn said the city has discriminated against Marina Bay even though its pier is similar to several city-owned piers—many of which are leased to private operators for boat rentals and other commercial purposes—that also are longer than what city ordinance permits.


“But the city has exempted itself. … They have created a class of one, and they can’t do that because our pier is similarly situated to their piers, and our pier is the only one being told it can’t be longer than 100 feet,” Blackbourn said.


Waskowski said the city is exempt from its ordinance because its piers are serving the interests of the public, while the Marina Bay pier is serving the interests of a private business.


“The difference between public and private is so fundamental,” he said. “There is no case that we could find in which the court held that they are similarly situated.”


Blackbourn also argued that the city broke a court-approved agreement, signed in 1998 and again in 2002, by amending its pier-length ordinance to allow the construction of a 205-foot city pier and failing to allow Marina Bay to extend its 154-foot pier.


He said the city cannot deny it amended its ordinance just because it added a subsection and gave it a different number.


“The city promised Marina Bay they could have a longer pier if the city ever amended its pier-head ordinance. … There was an amendment to pier-head ordinance. … I don’t understand how it could be considered anything other than an amendment,” he said. “I don’t think you have to amend by specific number to amend it (the whole ordinance).”


Waskowski argued the city did not amend the ordinance and did not violate the agreement.


“90.142 (the pier-length ordinance) was never amended. That didn’t happen,” he said. “If that ever happened, the plaintiffs would be allowed to extend their pier to the maximum length allowed under the ordinance … But that didn’t happen. These are very plain words.”


Judge John Race decided to take the matter under advisement. He could issue a written ruling in the coming weeks.



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