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Garage access request becomes inaccessible, for now, in Muskego

Jan. 21, 2013

Muskego - The Muskego Parks and Recreation Board last week turned down a resident's request for a 10-foot easement that would allow him to keep using a strip of parkland to gain access to his garage.

James Mortle is worried that at some point the city might not allow him to use the strip of land - a remnant of what was once Park Drive, the stub of a street that goes down to Little Muskego Lake - and he would then have no legal way of making use of his existing garage.

The strip is part of a tiny park that provides lake access. It doesn't have a boat launch but 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 the lake.

Long-term accessibility

The unusual driveway arrangement over that strip existed when Mortle bought his home 17 years ago.

While the park board wasn't interested in granting an easement because it would tie the city's hands, it was open to an agreement that could be renewed annually. But Mortle said that would put him in a worse position than he is right now. He claims to have a prescriptive easement for the strip because for so many years he and the previous owner drove over the land to get to the garage.

His attorney and the city attorney will sort out whether the prescriptive easement exists or if he needs any additional protection to maintain his garage access. If so, they will likely draft an agreement that would come back to the city as early as the Park Board's Feb. 11 meeting.

Besides ensuring access to his garage, Mortle also would like to be able to park a car outside on his driveway, but parking isn't permitted in the park.

Neighbors' concern

Mortle tried to resolve the issue through another approach last fall, when he offered to buy the 10-foot strip plus a large part of the lake access.

Neighbors complained about the idea, even claiming that Mortle had already incorporated some of the park into his yard. Mortle said he was just beautifying the city land as many do in the easements in front of their homes. He then withdrew his request.

Because neighbors continue to complain that he is using city land, Mortle came back to ask for the easement, said his attorney, Paul Piaskoski.

Piaskoski said that although Mortle believes he already has a prescriptive easement, he asked for the city to formalize that right to resolve a neighborhood difficulty, in hopes the neighbors would understand.

Public disagreement

But the city also doesn't support his view, agreeing with neighbors who say it's no longer clear what is parkland and what is Mortle's legal property.

The city checked out the claim that Mortle has incorporated some of the lake access into his yard and found that about 15 feet of the actual access width of more than 40 feet now looks like it's part of Mortle's property, Craig Anderson, parks and recreation director, said previously.

The parks board decided in November to clearly delineate where Mortle's property stops and the lake access begins and it reaffirmed that decision last week.

Having part of the access look like it's private property isn't fair to the city, said board member Butch LeDoux.

Similarly, board member Kelly Koble supported delineation, "so, in the future, there's transparency."

Tom Zagar, Muskego conservation coordinator, also recommended the removal of several trees along the boundary line. Though it's apparent that those trees sprouted on their own without Mortle's help, Zagar favored the removal of a box elder, as well as buckthorn as large as a tree, because they are undesirable species.

He also recommended cutting down green ash and elm trees, which have been susceptible to to diseases or insect infestation, on the site.

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