Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 7, 2012

Hannah, Lay heirs target of lawsuit

TRAVERSE CITY — Heirs of the city's founding fathers are targeted in a lawsuit intended to gain an easement for a piece of Boardman Lake property.

Robert and Michael Doriot are suing the "heirs and assigns" of Perry Hannah, Ann A. Hannah, A. Tracy Lay, Catherine R. Lay, James Morgan, Rebecca Morgan, William Morgan and Emma Morgan in 13th Circuit Court. That group founded the lumbering outfit Hannah, Lay & Company in the mid-19th century, and the company played a huge role in Traverse City's early history.

Court documents show the Doriots want access to their land, a vacant, roughly four-acre strip along Boardman Lake that Hannah, Lay & Company once owned. The heirs are included in the suit because they might be able to lay claim to railway land that blocks easy access to the Doriots' property, the suit indicates.

In the late 19th century, Hannah, Lay & Company sold what is now the Doriots' land to another company, and the Doriots acquired it in 1997. But it appears Hannah Lay & Company didn't specify an easement to the property, and the suit alleges an easement was implied.

"It would be out of conformity with Michigan public policy to conclude that the Hannah, Lay and Morgan families intended to convey land that was inaccessible except via watercraft," the suit reads.

A rail line stretches the western side of the property and cuts off easy access, and it's possible that the underlying land could be claimed by the heirs because Hannah, Lay & Company granted the orginal rail right-of-way, the suit said.

ut it's also possible the land could be claimed by the Michigan Department of Transportation, so MDOT also is included as a defendant in the suit.

Robert Doriot, a local real estate agent, declined to say much about the suit or the property. In 2005, he approached the city with a plan for a set of single-family home sites on the property, but that project never came to fruition. He said that's not the goal this time around, and instead he wants to live on the property.

Traverse City attorney Andrew Blodgett, an attorney for the Doriots, offered little comment about the suit, which he described as "routine."

"The easement exists right now, and we want to formalize it," Blodgett said.

The Doriots use a dirt path alongside and across the railroad tracks to access the property, the suit said.

A legal notice that seeks responses from any of the heirs was published in the Record-Eagle three times. If no one responds to the suit by the end of the year, the court could order a default judgement and grant the easement.

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