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Dock space dispute drags on over the years

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HORICON - A 20-year root canal. A dance that won't end. A waste of time and money.

That's how Brant Lake residents describe a decades-old dispute between a now-dissolved development company and town officials.

More recently, the conflict resulted in residents of the Brant Lake Heights development having to give up dock space they bought.

"We're not asking for anything that hasn't been there for 18 years," Maureen Rossley said of her dock, which she bought along with her home in Brant Lake Heights about a year ago.

In December, Rossley learned the town issued an order to remedy a violation, telling her she couldn't put her dock slip back into the lake come spring. Instead, she and dozens of other homeowners also notified of the order would have to share eight dock slips.

"We just don't understand what the big deal is," Rossley said.

The order came from the town's zoning administrator, Gary McMeekin, who believes the dock slips were sold in violation of the town's zoning ordinance.

According to Horicon Town Supervisor Ralph Bentley, the state Attorney General's Office is poring over 20 years of legal documents that trace the developments of the labyrinthine debate.

Essentially, Bob Olson, who sold homeowners many of the dock slips in question, believes the slips were "grandfathered" into the ordinance. He said the slips were grandfathered because the Brant Lake Heights subdivision was approved in June 1972, before the zoning ordinance was passed that prohibited the 21 dock slips he later sold.

"It's a simple one line sentence that takes precedence in this," Olson said. "These docks were in and serving these people for 17 years. … He has allowed them to put in eight slips, which doesn't nearly serve them, and he has required them to put it in the middle of a swimming area instead of where they had been located for 17 years without incident."

But the zoning administrator who issued the order to remove the docks says he is following the law.

"Him saying it's grandfathered, the Zoning Board of Appeals doesn't state that at all," Zoning Administrator Gary McMeekin said.

What Brant Lake Heights homeowners see is government interfering with their way of life.

"We're paying taxes up there and paying taxes on a dock. Many of us have to rent a dock space someplace else. This is going to hurt Brant Lake," Rossley said.

Compounding the already complex dispute is a neighboring family who, some say, took issue with the number of docks at Brant Lake Heights.

Bentley, the town's supervisor, said members of the Webster family, who live next to the common beach for Brant Lake Heights homeowners, were concerned that the docks violated the local ordinance.

"The unfortunate issue is there are neighboring properties affected by these dock systems," McMeekin said, responding to some homeowners' claims that the zoning was the problem, not the dock slips.

"There is about 120 feet of lake shore that belongs to the Websters that is virtually unusable," Olson said. "That insulates their property from the Brant Lake Heights waterfront."

Efforts to reach a member of the Webster family familiar with the issue were unsuccessful.

Olson, who also sits on the Town Board, said he felt he was being singled out because he ran in 2007 against Bentley for town supervisor. Olson lost by 12 votes. As for McMeekin, Olson said the zoning administrator once tried to run a competing general contracting business, which created a conflict of interest when it came to issuing permits.

McMeekin dismissed claims that the dock issue has to do with anything but the zoning code.

"Once you review the paperwork … it becomes very evident what the process is," he said. "It's getting the zoning correct."

Bentley also claimed that Olson's wife, Jean, removed a key court decision from the town's files that would have set the whole thing straight. Bentley said it was his "best guess" that Jean Olson, the former town supervisor in 1992 when the court decision was made, never filed the court decision with the town clerk. The court decision granted the Olsons only six dock slips, Bentley said, far fewer than the number Olson sold.

Bob Olson disputed Bentley's remark.

"I just cannot understand why he would say just a venomous thing to you about me," Olson said.

Homeowners like Rossley who bought one of the dock slips along with her house feel caught between the sides.

"I never realized your deed means less than a zoning thing," she said. "It's like a dance that's never gonna end."


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