Despite Owners' Protests, Some Lake Bloomington Docks Will be Cited

 Jeff Lindsay, an attorney for the Mizell family, spoke along with others against the City’s distinction of “non-lakefront lessees.” Many of those residents now face court-ordered removal of their docks after a City Council vote Monday night. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

Jeff Lindsay, an attorney for the Mizell family, spoke along with others against the City’s distinction of “non-lakefront lessees.” Many of those residents now face court-ordered removal of their docks after a City Council vote Monday night. (Image credit: Breanna Grow)

The Main Point: Lake Bloomington residents hoping to end the years-long debate over potentially illegal docks now face what City staff warn could be a lengthy court process to assess the 17 or so structures in question.

Council members Monday night voted 7-2 to effectively take no action on the issue, deferring instead to the City’s current process for handling structures that don’t comply with its building ordinances.  

Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen said City staff would have brought back an ordinance for council consideration at the April 23 meeting, but it looks as though Monday night’s vote requires no additional action.

“We’re going to get together with our city attorney and department heads and we’ll determine what’s necessary...but right now we were not given anything new that we need to do.”

Without further council action, those docks without permits will be cited by City staff for being in violation of city code.

Rasmussen and City Attorney Jeff Jurgens explained once a citation is issued, dock owners have a certain period of time to “correct the fault,” which in the case of a non-permitted dock, would mean removal.

If that requirement isn’t met, the dock owner would be ordered to appear in administrative court. Jurgens said failure to do so triggers a fine. “If they don’t go to administrative court, then we start fining them $250 a day until they do.”

Aldermen Scott Black and Jamie Mathy voted against the measure to assess the docks in court. “I don’t know that I’m comfortable starting off with a $250 a day fine,” said Mathy. Jurgens said the City’s goal in the process is compliance, “not to collect a bunch of fees.”

Council members favored the option as a way to ensure each dock owner would have their situation evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “These are tough issues, and I do think they need individual attention,” said Alderman Kim Bray.

Around 60 residents attended Monday’s meeting, with more signed up to speak during public comment than the allotted 30 minutes could accommodate.

Many asked for their docks--some of which were built decades ago--to be grandfathered in, saying they obtained City permission, albeit informally, to build their docks.

Jeff Lindsay spoke as an attorney for the Mizells, a family living near the lake. He and others spoke against the City’s distinction of “non-lakefront lessees” (those who own lakefront property but don’t rent City-owned lakeshore often directly in front of residents’ homes). Lindsay said the language makes no difference in property owner’s right to access the lake.

Rewind: City Water Director Robert Yehl acknowledged the permitting process has been inconsistent in the past, but said the distinction has been in place since the 1950s, with the local precedent for denying permits to non-lakefront lessees set in the 1970s.

Residents also questioned the City’s assertion that a main driver of staff’s pursuit of the docks’ removal has been preserving water quality at the lake, which serves as a main water source for Bloomington and other communities.

“If water quality were the real issue, the City would be addressing all the docks on the lake,” said David Brockmann.

Alderman Black had introduced a motion to grant dock owners a temporary 18-month permit, an amendment of one of staff’s three suggested options, but the motion wasn’t seconded.

“We’ve been working at this for over a year. Based on the passion in the room you’ve seen from all sides of the issue, you can tell our current practice isn’t working," Black said. 

"I wanted to give dock owners time to resolve their issues and become compliant, or start to plan to remove their docks. That gives staff time to react, and gives those who are concerned about illegal docks an end date on what that process would be.”

Key Takeaway: In theory, some lake residents may be allowed to keep their docks--in each case, the court could side with the property owner, but Jergens said the court usually orders the docks be removed if it finds in favor of the City.