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Muskego finds more lake access

Fences to define boundaries for public

Nov. 19, 2012

Muskego - Those who thought the city's small lakeside park on Little Muskego Lake should be wider than it appears at the water's edge are right.

Muskego officials dug down about 14 inches and found the pipe marking the city's property line and it was more than 15 feet into what appears to be the yard next door of Muskego lake resident James Mortle. That's important because Mortle had asked to buy some of the park so he could raze his house and garage and build new.

The tiny park, called a lake access, doesn't have a boat launch but it is meant to be a place where people can picnic, launch canoes and fish or swim from a city pier. The access is on the southeast shore of Little Muskego Lake.

The city checked the boundary not only because Mortle asked to buy some of the access, but because of claims that part of it looks like it's Mortle's yard. Indeed, the city found that about half the actual access width of more than 40 feet now looks like it's part of Mortle's property, said Craig Anderson, parks and recreation director.

Mortle acknowledged that he planted some bushes to beautify the area beside his home just like many people landscape city rights of way along their properties.

But Anderson also said it looks like the land had been regraded at some time, not necessarily by the current owner.

Mortle doesn't agree.

"The grade matches the access lot," he said.

But even if it has been regraded, Mortle said he doesn't know who did it.

"That was that way I bought the property 17 years ago," he said.

In any case, he has withdrawn his request to buy more of the access. But that might not be the end of the issue, he said.

"I withdrew because we might own it by adverse possession," he said. He claims that if someone takes care of property for 20 years, the land could be viewed as his, similar to laws granting squatters' rights, he said.

In January, the Muskego Parks and Recreation Board will consider what to do about the trees and bushes that have been planted on the city's lake access. Besides the bushes Mortle planted is a line of trees that stands on the property line and part of a walkway to Mortle's home. Anderson estimated that about 40 percent of the walk is on the city's.

Conservation coordinator Tom Zagar will now evaluate the survival chances of the line of trees whose trunks have been partially buried in soil, Anderson said.

And to avoid any more confusion over where the public can go, the board last week approved a split rail fence be placed along the access boundary.

Some of those who use the lake access objected that Mortle's request to buy access land - narrowing the access to 15 feet - would make it hard for them to enjoy the access as they haul bulky water toys to the lake. Some close neighbors also objected that the 4-foot tall wall Mortle proposed to surround his larger property would greatly reduce their view of the lake.

City discovers violations

The controversy has blown up beyond the original request to buy lake access.

The city is now aware of a newly built garage at a nearby home that violates city setback ordinances and was built without a permit, according to city officials. The owner was among those criticizing his request, Mortle said.

"My frustration is that I'm trying to go through the proper channels for a garage and obtain a permit and a neighbor builds one illegally," he said.

The neighbor will appear before the Muskego Board of Appeals to ask it to waive the setback requirement. If it does, Mortle said he feels he should be able to build his garage, too, even though it wouldn't conform to setback requirements either.

Another side development was that Mortle reported to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources that a neighbor is using allegedly illegal boat slips and pier. Because it's fall and the pier is out of the lake, Mortle said a DNR official said the agency will move on the report in spring.

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