Lake Park Neighbors Seek Control of Bluff
Wahl Ave. residents have already clear cut top of bluff, now want special access to all of it.
A number of residents living along Lake Park say they should have the right to clear vegetation from the face of a four-acre bluff adjacent to their homes. The county’s attorney says prove it.
Now, they may not have to. Their representative on the county board, Sup. Sheldon Wasserman has authored an amendment to the Milwaukee County budget that would give these residents and the local friends group, Lake Park Friends “the right, in perpetuity, to fix, repair, and maintain bluffs and other parkland areas abutting or overlapping their property lines in the deed restricted area along the bluffs of Wahl Avenue.”
The residents would pay for the landscaping work themselves, Wasserman said. What’s more, if the county doesn’t allow this, according to Wasserman, “There will be a lawsuit defining this and I don’t think we should spend money on lawsuits.”
Most of the parkland owned by Milwaukee County was at one point deeded to it, and many of the parks were originally owned by the City of Milwaukee. Given this, complicated land use and ownership disputes are not uncommon for the department. Jeremy Lucas, director of administration and planning for Milwaukee County Parks, said the department at times has to work to understand all the obligations carried by the various real estate transactions the department has engaged in in its history.
Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun told supervisors there are many historical real estate documents her office is still working through. But she said, “We do not necessarily agree with the premise underlying the proposed amendment, which is that there should be some special arrangement or special rights granted to these particular residents for this purpose.”
Daun also warned against that proposed language, saying, “It would never be” her office’s advice “to grant easements of the kind contemplated here in perpetuity.” She also noted that the language regarding what residents would be able to do in perpetuity was far too vague. “We don’t know what ‘fix, repair and maintain’ means,” she said. “What if their version of fix repair and maintain includes trimming their trees to such a degree that the tree dies and the root system has to be removed?”
Daun illustrated the legal dilemma posed by Wasserman’s amendment and the Wahl Avenue residents as, “If I happen to have a property that abuts parkland, and I don’t like my view; if I happen to have a lot of dollars, does that mean I have a right to access parkland and trim the trees down so I have a view, absent some legally binding document from years past?”
The residents have already engaged in some clearcutting on the bluff. Lucas told Urban Milwaukee that the residents were granted authorization this past summer for this work under an agreement from more than a decade ago when the parks department was under former director Sue Black. But this agreement only covered a narrow strip of land at the top of the bluff abutting Wahl Ave. and totaling 1.9 acres. What the residents want access to is the rest of the bluff all the way down to Lincoln Memorial Dr., a four-acre strip of land.
Urban Milwaukee observed the bluff on Aug. 24 and again on Sept. 23 and recorded that a significant amount of vegetation at the top of the bluff face had been clear cut. Based upon a map shown to Urban Milwaukee by the parks department, residents have clear cut vegetation on the bluff within the strip of land they are legally allowed under the old agreement. The trees and plant life untouched on the bluff-face fall within the larger four-acre strip of land running down to Lincoln Memorial Drive.
In some areas, the de-vegetation opened up the sightline from the top of the bluff to Bradford beach and the shoreline below. But in other areas, the trees and plant life remaining on the bluff obstructed the view.
“We want to adhere to the coastal management guidelines this body adopted for parkland and all of the coast in the county as a way to make sure that we are fully protected from erosion and bluff stabilization,” Lucas said. ” The bottom of this property carries some very important infrastructure including but not limited to Lincoln Memorial Drive.”
In recent years, parks, corporation counsel and these residents have been going back and forth on the issue, Wasserman said, and the residents would like the access and unique land use rights granted before next spring. “And I think the Office of Corporation Counsel has kind of moved into somewhat of a political role there,” Wasserman said. “I appreciate her legal opinions. But we’re the political people who make decisions.”
“I dispute the premise, from a legal perspective, that anyone has concluded, other than the residents of Wahl Avenue, that this is a legally recognizable right that they enjoy,” Daun said. “So whether we want to create a new one, or the board does, at this point in time, indeed is a political decision that I have nothing to say about.”