LELAND — The Leland Township Board and the Leelanau County Road Commission will each enter into mediation in a lawsuit filed recently against both parties over a road end in the township.
The lawsuit was filed July 5 by the Abigail M. Janko Share Trust and the Preston P. Joyes Jr. Trust regarding the Reynolds Street road end.
The Janko and Joyes families own property on either side of the road end, which ends at the Lake Michigan shoreline in Leland.
The township has always used the 60-foot-wide road end as a public beach, while the road commission has recently gotten into the fray, saying the road end is county property and is to be used only as ingress and egress to the lake.
The Janko and Joyes families are now claiming they — and not the county — own the waterfront land between their properties.
The issue started in 2017, when Alexander Janko told Board members at a township meeting that beach-users were trespassing onto his property, vandalizing it and partying into the night.
Things came to a head recently when a fence was mysteriously erected along the path to the shoreline on what is considered public property and taken down less than two days later.
There is also the issue of high water, which has eaten up beaches all over the county, putting beachgoers in closer contact with those with shoreline homes.
Maude Babington and Heidi Weckwert said they bought a condo four blocks from the Reynolds Road area because they wanted to be able to walk to the beach.
“Now somebody is going to tell me we can’t do that anymore?” Babington said.
She said going into mediation doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“We don’t understand why the township Board is not filing a motion to dismiss, because we all know the people have been using that beach for decades and decades,” she said.
Weckwert said the township needs to step up and protect all of their interests, “not just the two houses that border this access point.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Western District of Michigan – Southern Division. The Jankos and Joyes are represented by the Ordway Law Firm in Traverse City.
It aims to “correct a taking of private property” by the township, the lawsuit states. The four-count lawsuit claims the property between the road proper and the shoreline is private. The township has “hidden, ignored or were unaware of historical records” that prove as much, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit asks that the township compensate the families for the property, or in the alternative to restore title to them and award them damages for trespass and nuisance.
The lawsuit claims the property at question is worth more than $600,000.
“(Janko) has not been paying taxes on it,” said township Supervisor Susan Och. “His property deed does not include that area and he has not applied for a boundary line adjustment.
“If you own something show us the deed.”
The township is represented in this matter by Bradley D. Wierda of the Smith & Johnson law firm in Traverse City. The road commission is represented by William L. Henn of Henn Lesperance PLC in Grand Rapids.
Road commissioners went into closed session at their Monday meeting and then voted 3-0 to follow the advice of their attorney and go into mediation along with the township, said Manager Justin Kelenske. Commissioners Bob Joyce and Greg Mikowski were absent.
In 2017 the township Board voted to remove signs designating the road end as South Beach. It also charged the township Parks and Recreation Commission with creating an ordinance governing the road end that could then be enforced by the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Department.
“That’s what they asked for back in 2017 and that’s what the township agreed to do,” said Trustee Tony Borden. “And here we are two years later.”
Some signs were taken down, but several remain that detail the width of the road access and the dangers of rip currents and cold water, Och said. There are also two life rings there.
“I would rather face a lawsuit from (Alexander) Janko than face a lawsuit from the family of a drowning victim who didn’t know the dangers because we pulled those signs,” Och said.
Borden, an attorney, said that many times when a lawsuit is filed the judge assigned to the case will order mediation.
“Hopefully this can jump-start things toward some kind of acceptable resolution for everybody,” Borden said.
“I hope we can find some way to satisfy the adjoining property owners,” she said.