Council to Discuss Lake Bloomington Docks, Options Include Removal for Some

 Council members will hear from City staff as well as Lake Bloomington residents Monday night before discussing further action on lakefront docks that City staff say violate City code. (Image credit: Lake Bloomington Association)

Council members will hear from City staff as well as Lake Bloomington residents Monday night before discussing further action on lakefront docks that City staff say violate City code. (Image credit: Lake Bloomington Association)

Main Point: Over a year after the issue first arose, Bloomington City Council members will meet for a special session Monday evening to discuss options for a number of Lake Bloomington docks, which City staff say are in violation of City code.

Rewind: The consent agenda for a February 13, 2017 council meeting included a measure that would change Lake Bloomington permitting rules. The measure specifically targeted existing docks that didn’t have permits on record (a violation of city code) for removal.

The lake, located about 15 miles north of Bloomington, is owned by the City and is maintained and operated by the City’s water department. Lake Bloomington is both a reservoir and  recreational site for surrounding communities.

Staff argued it’s always been the City’s general practice not to issue permits for lakefront structures to “non-lakefront lessees” (those who live in the area but don’t rent City-owned lake property) and that the measure was just a formality to establish that precedent going forward.

But a number of those non-lakefront lessees argued that’s not the case. Several dock owners attended the February 2017 meeting to tell council members they obtained City permission before building their docks.

Ryan Esposito is a Lake Bloomington Association director and vice president of Friends of EverBloom. His family’s docks are among the 17 being targeted by the City for removal. Over the last year Esposito has become an advocate for non-lakefront lessees who worry the City will remove their docks, changing the way they enjoy their property.

“Not having a dock and access at your property that you purchased with access...it’s going to affect the overall value of the property and how you utilize the bundle of rights associated with owning real estate. We all purchased [homes] out here to enjoy the lake life, and not having that access would take it away.”

Fine Print: Esposito described how residents have gone about getting City approval for their docks in the past. “You’d call down and talk to building and zoning, which you’d think would be the one to give you the permit. They would say, ‘You have to talk to the water department.’” He said a basic sketch of the dock was sufficient for approval from the water department in many cases.

Esposito also said while he understands the City’s desire to formalize the permitting process, he and other dock owners oppose any retroactive measure that would allow the City to remove existing docks. Current dock owners argue the structures--some of which were built decades ago--ought to be grandfathered in if the City amends its permitting code.

Esposito filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in an attempt to learn more about the City’s plans for his and his neighbors’ docks.

The FOIA revealed the City has permits for just 32 of the estimated 200 Lake Bloomington docks. Of those, 27 were issued after the February 2017 council meeting.

City staff at that meeting discussed water quality as a key factor in pursuing the removal of non-conforming docks. Lake Bloomington is one of the few reservoirs nationwide where boating is allowed.

“I don’t understand how a dock on non-leased property or on an easement affects water quality any differently than a dock with a lease,” Esposito said. “I just wish we could concentrate this much time and energy into actually improving the lake; that to me is the most disheartening thing about the whole situation.”

What’s Next: Esposito said he and seven other Lake Bloomington dock owners plan to attend Monday evening’s special session to speak during public comment.

City Water Director Bob Yehl will present three sample options to help direct council action on the matter, including one mandating the removal of all non-conforming docks; a second to allow the City to purchase non-conforming docks from owners for their appraised value; and a third to grant dock owners a temporary permit. None of the options include a provision to grandfather in existing docks.

Alderman Karen Schmidt said after hearing from several residents petitioning the City not to remove their docks, she’ll be listening for any proponents of the docks’ removal to add their perspective to the issue. She says it’s possible council members will use staff’s given options to craft their own unique measure. 

Ultimately Schmidt said she hopes to find a solution that helps Lake Bloomington residents move forward in what has been a drawn-out and often difficult discussion. 

“We want to make sure that what we do is not punitive and that from here on out we have clear procedures...It’s not fair to leave [residents] hanging.”

Key Takeaway: The City says a number of Lake Bloomington docks were built in violation of city code, and several options are being explored to handle the matter, including the removal of the docks. Dock owners advocating for their right to keep their docks will have an opportunity to share their concerns at Monday's council meeting.