GRAND LAKE - With no resolution about who really owns the Grand Lake lakebed, the town is working on a law that aims to protect the town when issuing building permits for boathouses and boat docks.
A resolution in-the-making includes language that holds lakeside owners responsible for the ownership of their properties on which their boathouses or docks are built, indemnifying the town if someday the projects are challenged by another party.
The issue came about a few years ago when the town of Grand Lake began conducting surveys in its handling of building permits, according to Grand Lake Town Manager David Hook. What was discovered was that property lines were inconsistent with what had been assumed, he said.
And for land not platted to owners of lakeshore property, the question of what agency really owns the lakebed remains. Is it the state of Colorado? The U.S. government? Does some of it belong to the Town of Grand Lake?
While working for the town, former Grand Lake Planner Abby Jo Whitman initiated conversations about the subject with the town's attorney. The town held its first well-attended public meeting on the matter in August and has since drafted ordinances addressing its concerns.
"The town's concern is the town doesn't have the authority to issue building permits on land the applicants don't own," Hook said.
"The town acts like they want to be convinced of the answer of ownership, and it's a question that's been unanswered for 130 years," said community member and real-estate agent Will O'Donnell, who has vocalized opposition to any ordinance about the matter.
In taking up the issue, the town staff initially proposed a moratorium on building permits for shoreline projects while the town worked through the complex question, but the moratorium never gained traction from the town board.
On Monday, Nov. 26, the ordinance on the board table contained language protecting the town against potential future claims. It also contained a "wheras" suggesting the town may own a "pathway along the shoreline of Grand Lake in the Sunnyside Addition."
The Sunnyside subdivision plat is along the northeastern area of the lake, with property lines not extending into the lake. An 8- to 12-foot "gap" exists between the shoreline-property boundaries and the lake waters.
The town suggests the gap may be public land.
But O'Donnell questions the town's interpretation of the plat. "Really that strip (on the map) is a picture of water lapping up against the shoreline on the Sunnyside map," he said.
O'Donnell finds the ordinance excessive and worries it could be misinterpreted in the future.
The Grand County planning department, which manages building permits for a large portion of Grand Lake's shoreline, handles the lakebed ownership question another way. On a pre-application form for a building permit, one line at the top states, "You are responsible for building on your property within setbacks or building envelope."
A Sept. 11, 2012, memo from Grand County Surveyor Warren Ward to County Attorney Jack DiCola states private ownership along Grand Lake goes to the shoreline - where the water ends - in accordance with the Public Lands Survey System that started in 1795 and is still used today. "To my knowledge, two court rulings related to Grand Lake have confirmed my opinion," Ward wrote in his two-page explanation of the system deliniating how the government-surveyed "meander line" allowed the government to keep large bodies of water while deposing dry lands to the private sector. Case law further established private property to the water lines, which can be in constant states of change.
According to Grand County Planning Director Kris Manguso, the county will continue to operate as it always has.
O'Donnell advocates the town simply be consistent with the county's approach.
"If we can't be specific about what the town is going to do, it makes clients uncertain about what they are going to do with their property they are considering buying," O'Donnell said.
The Grand Lake board neither approved or disapproved the proposed ordinance at Monday's meeting. Based on input at the meeting, revisions likely will be made, and the board plans to review the matter after the first of the year.
- Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603