By: Mike Anderson
An on-going dispute in Willow Beach over access to a road end beach is closer to being resolved as the Town has confirmed the beach is for public use and not part of an adjacent property that is for sale.
The dispute between John Carlisle, the owner of 417 Lake Dr. East, who claims exclusive use of the beach, and Churchill Lane residents, who say they’ve been using the beach for decades, has been going on since the beginning of the summer, with each side accusing the other of vandalism and bullying tactics.
On July 29, the Town took decisive action to resolve the dispute, placing boulders along the gravel shoulder, marking the beaches boundary, and laying river rock to improve public access from Lake Drive.
It also removed a temporary fence that residents had put up during the dispute, and asked them to take down resident-only beach signs and to stop using the beach to launch boats.
This followed a meeting on July 21, between Churchill Lane residents and Town staff, in which Rob Flindall, the Town’s Director of Operations and Infrastructure, and Michael Vos, Road Operations Manager, confirmed Mr. Carlisle could not put up a fence that would block public access to the beach.
At that meeting, both Mr. Findall and Mr. Vos said Mr. Carlisle’s claim of exclusive use was not supported, as the beach belongs to the Town and has never been surveyed.
The dispute came to a head on July 8, when Mr. Carlisle, who is trying to sell his vacant lot across from the beach, brought a contractor to take measurements for a proposed fence along 80-feet of the waterfront, including the beach, in front of his property.
They were met by a large group of Churchill Lane residents, who weren’t happy about him putting up a fence and blocking their beach access.
“I went there to look at it. The contractor didn’t even get a chance to measure, because there were 40 people there,” said Mr. Carlisle, who told The Post he never intended to put up a fence, but was concerned about potential vandalism to his property.
“The reason this started was the people on Churchill damaged the property. They spray-painted a tree. They spray-painted the front of the road, and they illegally put up a fence,” he said.
Residents counter that their private beach signs were also vandalized or removed without their permission, and that Mr. Carlisle has no right to put up a fence, as the community has been using the beach since the 1950s.
“They’re starting a war over a few feet of waterfront. It’s not even really theirs. It’s government-owned. Nobody on Lake Drive owns their waterfront,” said Ben King, 33, a long time resident of Churchill Lane, who’s been swimming at the beach his whole life.
Residents also claim that Mr. Carlisle’s realtor, Marilyn McLaughlin, repeatedly approached them on the beach, accusing them of trespassing and threatening to call the police.
On at least one occasion, according to residents, YRP did order people off the beach.
On June 20, Ms. Nanci Oliveira Silva, who lives on Churchill Lane, and her five-year-old son were ordered to vacate the beach by a YRP constable, who arrived with his cruiser’s lights flashing.
“He came up to me and said you can’t be here. This is private property. And then he went over and screamed at my son, who was still in the water. And my son started to cry,” she said. “I felt embarrassed like I was a criminal.”
Ms. McLaughlin denies ever calling the police, but did not deny asking residents to vacate the disputed beach area.
In a phone interview, Ms. McLaughlin expressed her frustration with Churchill Lane residents and upheld Mr. Carlisle’s exclusive use of the beach.
“These people have no brains about anything. They don’t understand surveys, deeds, legalities, nothing. I’ve talked to them several times. The bylaw people have talked to them. The police have talked to them. And if they continue with this nonsense, they will be charged,” she said.
“The owner is going to put up a fence, which he is entitled to do, marking out where his exclusive use is and making it clear. So these people know where they can swim. And a buyer knows where they can swim when they buy it.”
With that option seemingly off the table, Mr. Carlisle believes he’s being unfairly singled out. He said he’s just like any other indirect waterfront property owner along Lake Drive, and he has a right to claim exclusive use of the waterfront in front of his property, even though it is not on his deed.
“Anybody that has property on Lake Drive has exclusive rights to use the waterfront in front of their property,” he said.
Vladimir Soukharev, an unofficial spokesperson for the residents, while pleased with the Town’s response, is not claiming victory yet.
“I feel good that the Town is progressing. We’ve been told that our beach is public. And the Town is placing boulders where the temporary fence was to mark the access point for us,” he said.
“I have more confidence that this will be resolved, but I know we definitely still have to keep an eye on this.”
Mr. Carlisle said he would discuss the Town’s position with his lawyer.
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