Winona Council Hears Pier Space Dispute

WINONA LAKE – Winona Lake Town Council agreed Tuesday to suspend the rental of pier space until they can figure out exactly what ordinances say on who has the right of first refusal for space on the town-owned canal.
The discussion began when Herbert Teeter, of 112 W. 12th St., a long-time owner of property adjacent to the canal, told the council he wanted to discuss how the spaces were assigned.
“I feel that the ordinance should be amended,” he said, stating he took exception to Sec. 78-32 (e) of the ordinance regarding canal space rental agreement, pier permit.
It states, in part, “A person holding a canal space rental agreement that expired on Dec. 31 of the year preceding the ordinance from which this article is derived (2004), shall have the right to renew that agreement by completing and submitting an application for a renewal of the agreement, together with the payment of the agreement fee for the canal space to the office of the clerk-treasurer of the Town of Winona Lake on or before the end of the first business day in April. Whenever that person relinquishes the space, priority shall be given to the adjacent landowner on an annual basis. An owner of real estate adjacent to the canal and the canal right-of-way, shall have the first right to the adjacent canal space that has not been renewed or that is not subject to renewal by the signing of an agreement and payment of the fee by the April 15 of each year.”
Teeter contended that as a property owner adjacent to the canal he should have the first right to a pier site directly in front of his house. He said he’s been smart enough to take care of that every year for himself, renewing his site between January and April of each year.
“I think the way this is worded, it’s infringing on my rights as a property owner, that someone else, somebody that had a site the year before, should have the right to it before I have it. I think I should have the right to it,” Teeter said.
He said the ordinance should be reworded so he has the right of first refusal every year to the site in front of his house.
Teeter then said his son, who lives in Illinois but owns a house at 1004 W. Canal St., wants to also have a pier site in front of his own house. One site in front of his son’s house has not been claimed, so Teeter went down to the town hall Wednesday to ask for that pier space for his son.
Building Commissioner Gene Seiman told him that wasn’t the way things were done, Teeter said. On Nov. 20, Seiman issued a general letter to all renters saying they had until May 1 to renew their site. “That’s not what it says in the ordinance,” Teeter told the council.
He asked the council to instruct Seiman to assign to him today the site that was still open in front of his son’s house. Teeter said the ordinance says a person has only until April 1 to renew a space and it’s way past that date. Teeter also told the council he’d like them to instruct their attorney, Jim Walmer, to change the ordinance to give right of first refusal to the property owner adjacent to a pier space from Jan. 1 to April 1. From April 1 to May 1, Winona Lake residents could pick up any site not assigned, and then after May 1 anyone could rent a space.
Council President Bruce Shaffner explained that the council couldn’t take any action last night because they first have to take it under advisement and get more information. Teeter only had a copy of the ordinance for himself and Walmer and the town councilmen didn’t have any copies to review. Shaffner said the council could discuss it further at the next meeting.
Teeter then asked the council to instruct Seiman to assign to him the unassigned site in front of his son’s property because that was per code.
Town Coordinator Craig Allebach said that ordinance also gives Seiman the “authority to administer that program.”
“Per code, right? Per the ordinance?” Teeter asked.
“He has latitude to do what he needs to do to administer that program,” Allebach answered.
“How much latitude?” Teeter quickly asked.
“Whatever,” Allebach said.
“Oh, no, no. Don’t just say ‘whatever.’ Tell me how much latitude does he have. Does he have to go by the code or not?” Teeter asked.
“I think it’s an interpretation of the timeframe that you’re asking for. I don’t know that it’s not, it will or will not be assigned, but we also have waiting lists for people on those particular sites, too,” Allebach said.
He then asked Teeter, “So what about the rights of that particular person that you want to throw out of that space that might have been there before you owned your particular property?” Allebach said Teeter didn’t have the right to throw that person out of there just because Teeter was an adjacent property owner. The ordinance was rewritten over 10 years ago so that if a space became available, the adjacent property owner has a right to first refusal.
Teeter said that’s exactly what has happened. The person that had the space in front of his son’s property did not renew by the April 1 deadline, so Teeter wanted the council to assign that site to him as his son’s agent. Allebach said he wasn’t sure if Teeter could act as his son’s agent or if his son would have to rent the space in person.
Shaffner reiterated that the council needed time to study the issues before making any decision. Teeter asked the council to at least tell Seiman not to assign that spot until it’s been reviewed, but Shaffner repeated that the council didn’t want to make any decisions until all the facts were gathered.
“It’s not our practice to vote on an emotional issue at the moment it comes to us,” Councilman Denny Duncan said, adding that the council will make an effort to make a good decision. “But please don’t come in here and ask me to vote to tell a staff member to change his mind before I’ve had a chance to talk to the staff member about what’s going on.”
Teeter asked the council to have one of its members talk to Seiman. Shaffner said Allebach will do the legwork and then report back to the council what he found. Seiman said, “I would rather it was a council member. I just would.”
Resident Jerry Nelson said he understood the ordinance to say the adjacent property owner had the right of first refusal up until April 1 on an annual basis. If that wasn’t true, another person could renew that space rental every year and he would never have use or control of it. He said if you bought a piece of property, you ought to have the right to park your boat in front of your house by renting that pier spot.
Resident Jim LeMasters said, “The issue with all the taxes and all that is, if you buy a piece of property and you are on the canal, you will never, ever, never get that, the way the code is written right now, if that person keeps renewing that. And that can’t be good. Nobody here who lives on the canal thinks it’s right.”
He said resident Art Gakstatter tried to get the ordinance rewritten correctly, but apparently that didn’t happen.
Teeter’s wife said another problem was parking because strangers will park in front of their house so they have nowhere to park.
In ending the discussion, the council consented to suspend the rental of pier spots so they can figure the issue out.