A permanent solution on boathouse leases or ownership was not reached at the Aug. 10 Windermere Town Council meeting, but some positive ground has been gained.
With the current lease extension set to expire at the end of this month, council members approved a motion to extend leases on a month-to-month basis with a 30-day notice of termination. The extension will remain in place until an ownership agreement is reached.
Council Member Bill Martini referenced a motion carried during a Town Council meeting 20 years ago that ensures the preservation of the boathouses. On Oct. 9, 2001, Town Council members approved the boathouses as local historical structures as recommended by the Historical Preservation Committee.
“Everyone understood the boathouse vote was postponed at that meeting and had been forgotten about,” Martini said. “What we didn’t realize is that the motion only got postponed until later in the same meeting, and it had been passed.”
Located west of Main Street in Palmer Park, the five boathouses are estimated to be more than 100 years old. They now will join Windermere’s Cal Palmer Memorial Building at 502 Main St., Town Hall at 520 Main St., and the 1887 Schoolhouse at West Seventh Avenue and Main Street as historical landmarks.
“That basically puts them under the umbrella of the Historical Preservation Board as far as being in charge of maintenance,” Martini said. “It takes the burden off of the Public Works Department or the town administration to make sure the structures are maintained in a consistent fashion.”
However, the question of ownership has been a hot topic for years. Boathouse occupants only can provide quit claim deeds, which transfers whatever title someone has in real property to a grantee. The town does not have documents that explicitly state or prove its ownership, either. However, it does own the land on which the structures sit. The town decided to lease the boathouses 20 years ago — each lease with an initial 10-year term. The leases then automatically renewed for another 10-year term.
Council members and boathouse occupants have been at odds over a permanent solution, but the wait has led to a grudging acceptance of the potential decision voiced during the meeting by a representative of the boathouse occupants.
“We disagree with the idea that government ownership will lead to a more fair solution but, having said that, our assessment of the situation is that’s the only way we can move forward,” said George Poelker, a boathouse occupant. “So we’re going with town ownership, and we’re trying to cultivate a really positive feeling and a decent lease agreement that allows this thing to move forward.”
“Our goal at this point is to have everything squared away by the September council meeting,” Martini said. “We would renew the leases for a period of time, but we’re going to be determining a fair market rent value through an appraiser.”
Despite their differences, both sides agree that a solution needs to be reached by September.
“It’s been a 100-year problem,” Martini said. “This go-round, we’re trying to solve it.”
“I just want the whole process to be over; we’ve been talking about it for too long,” Poelker said. “By the next Town Council meeting, I’m hoping we have a viable lease we can all agree to and we can put in place.”