Despite objections raised by Lake Drive residents at a special council session on July 24th, Town Council decided to move forward with “fair market value” appraisals for the disputed lakeside lots along Lake Drive North and East.
This is all part of what the Town calls the “Lake Drive Shoreline Jurisdiction Action Plan,” an attempt to get some 400 indirect lakefront property owners to buy the Town’s lakeside lots and have them absorb the costs.
The Town wants to divest itself of these public lands — mainly narrow strips between the shoreline and the road — to limit its liability.
However, Lake Drive residents are unhappy with the Town’s approach to this issue.
Some dispute the Town’s claims on their property, and ask why they are being forced to “buy back” their own land.
Others accuse the Town of padding the bill; they want to purchase the land for a nominal value, and have the Town absorb, or at least, share the costs, which include legal fees, survey fees, and staff costs.
Like most Lake Drive property owners, John King, 62, is pretty fed up with a process that has dragged on for more than four years.
Mr. King’s cottage property on Lake Drive North has been in his family for over a hundred years.
According to Mr. King, his grand-mother purchased the lot in 1917.
The deed, dated January 1st, 1917, indicates that the land extends to the shoreline, but is subject to the provisions and limits of the crown grant.
“I’m still not aware of why the town feels they have a claim to that land,” says Mr. King. “I thought it was a matter of the crown giving a grant to people. So, I’m a little confused as to why the town feels they have a claim to it.”
Mr. King says the Town should explain their claim, and so far, they haven’t done a good job.
“I think there would be a lot of benefit to the homeowners to clarify the situation, to resolve the issue once and for all,” he says.
Much of the confusion is over the road allowance, which forms the basis of the Town’s claim on the lakefront lots.
Traditional road allowances were 66 foot-wide strips of land, so many residents, like Mr. King, assume that the Town’s land extends 33 feet from the middle of the road to the shoreline.
However, the Town’s lawyer Andrew Biggart argues this is not the case.
He says the road allowance extends from the north edge of the traveled portion of the road to the shoreline.
This assertion is based on a legal opinion from Wharton “Rusty” Russell, an acknowledged expert in municipal law.
Mr. Russell, recently deceased, was the author of “Russell on Roads,” a reference manual on municipal road allowances.
Mr. Biggart acknowledges there may be exceptions to the rule, but he is confident that the “vast majority,” some 90 per cent or more of the lakefront lots are owned by the municipality.
While some Lake Drive residents continue to dispute this claim, others are ready to purchase the lots but don’t like the Town’s terms.
Kenny Stockman, 38, and his wife bought a run-down, Lake Drive East cottage in 2012, and recently completed costly renovations to make it a lovely, lakeside home for their two children.
Mr. Stockman’s deed states that he doesn’t own the land north of the roadway, but that he has exclusive rights.
Mr. Stockman doesn’t understand why he should have to pay for land that only he can use, when he has already paid property taxes on it for more than seven years.
“To me it’s just ridiculous that this has all come up,” he says. “If the town is that concerned about liability, then sign it over to the house across the street. I’ll pay $1500 to get my lawyer to sign off on it. And then you don’t have to worry about it. I don’t want to have to pay for it.”
Mr. Stockman also wants the Town to pay its fair share of the costs.
“If I have a piece of property that I’m selling to somebody. I can’t tell that person I think you should pay all my lawyer fees,” he says. “I think they are trying to profit out of the 400 properties and just try to make sure they don’t incur any costs.”
But the prospect of a sweetheart deal for the land seems unlikely.
During the council session, Mayor Quirk asked Mr. Biggart if it was possible to forgo the appraisals and just pick a number that seemed fair — his response was telling.
Council should attain a “reasonably justifiable price” for any sale of the municipalities assets, said Mr. Biggart.
“We cannot have a fire sale to the benefit of some landowners and to the detriment of others,” he added.
The Town will appraise 3-5 sample lots to determine their value per square metre, and this ratio will be applied to individual lots to determine their sale price.
The appraisals will be completed by the end of August, so the Town will have them in-hand prior to the next step in the process, public consultations — supposedly with the very people who were opposed to appraisals in the first place.
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