By Jason Schmucker
Several property owners on Lakeview Terrace Blvd. met with Waconia City Council members July 15 to discuss their concerns related to public use of city-owned easements adjacent to their individual properties.
According to city administrator Susan Arntz, the property owners are seeing increased public use of the easements to access Lake Waconia during the summer months.
“The main reason for that (meeting) was sharing with the property owners, the adjacent property owners, our evolved understanding of that right-of-way,” Arntz said at the July 20 city council meeting. “For many, many years – decades probably – it has been understood or believed that the city owned those easement
areas and they were available to the public to walk across, to use for fire access and a variety of uses.”
That evolved understanding comes after consultation with the city attorney Mike Melchert, where it was learned that the city only has an easement across the properties and the public does not have access to them unless the council opts to “open” the easements for public use.
“In the last four years, we’ve had maybe three individuals that have said, ‘Hey, can I carry a kayak across this,” Arntz said outside the meeting. “And we’ve told them yes. And until we got (Melchert’s) research and really studied it this winter and discussed it with the city council, we have an evolved understanding of what the nature of those areas truly is.”
Arntz said the city’s new understanding is that the municipality has an unexercised right-of-way easement across the areas. Arntz said that state statutes only convey the city an easement, not ownership of the area, and until the city decides to open the right-of-ways, the public does not have a right to access them.
“The adjacent property owners have exclusive use of them,” Arntz said.
Currently, the city does not perform any maintenance on the easements, Arntz said. All maintenance, such as mowing and debris removal, is carried out by adjacent property owners. Should the city opt to leave the easements closed, the status quo would be maintained and the public would not have legal access to the parcels.
“We’re heading towards our meeting on Aug. 3, where we’re asking the city council to make a decision on whether the city wishes to exercise those easements,” Arntz said. “What is not up for discussion at the current time is vacating those easements, so it’s not that the intention that we are giving up the public right in the future, but it is more of a decision to open them now or not open them now.”
Arntz said that there is at least one property owner officials have not met with, and that impacted property owners will be given an opportunity to weigh in before any decision is made.
Should the city opt to open the easements to public access, the city could place regulations on what kind of activities would be legally allowed on the right-of-way – regulations like the restriction of alcohol use, ban of motorized vehicles, ect.
“We’ll talk more about this on Aug. 3,” Mayor Jim Sanborn said.