Discussions regarding boathouse lease extensions in Windermere have been tabled to allow for further negotiations between the town and boathouse owners.
After hearing from boathouse owners and residents, Town Council members voted during their July 13 meeting to delay a decision until both parties had a chance to work out details in the lease.
The five boathouses in town are located in Palmer Park and are estimated to be more than 100 years old. The town decided to lease them out 20 years ago with an initial 10-year term; those leases then automatically renewed for another decade.
Current boathouse leases were set to expire in February, but Town Council voted in December 2020 to extend them to August to review options. Since then, the Town Council has been working to make a decision regarding lease extensions, as well as answer a question once and for all: Who actually owns the boathouses?
That answer remains elusive. Boathouse owners 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 the structures themselves sit on.
Following the May 25 Town Council workshop regarding the boathouses, a new lease agreement was drafted. Town Manager Robert Smith said staff needed direction on whether to proceed with that agreement as written/amended or go a different direction.
Boathouse owner George Poelker said one of the main issues brought up at the workshop was fairness regarding boathouse ownership.
“Never once in 100 years has the town ever tried to insert itself into a transaction,” Poelker said. “I just keep wondering, ‘Why now?’ In all, there have been about 40 owners of the boathouses throughout history. … That equates to a boathouse changing hands every two-and-a-half years. That’s really not unfair. That’s capitalism at its finest. Ownership seems to be the key to this equitable distribution. The funny thing is, though, that neither one of us can prove that we own what we think we own.
“One thing I think we can agree on, though, is throughout the years, these owners have been commendable stewards of these boathouses,” he said. “They’ve been staunch preservationists of these iconic Windermere treasures. The proof is that they’re still standing.”
Fellow boathouse owner Curt Fraser shared about the investments he has made into the care and maintenance of his boathouse over the years.
“These residents have bought and sold these structures in good faith over the last 100 years. I don’t think it’s right to just take these structures and deprive them of any and all equities.” — Council Member Bill Martini
“I’ve invested a lot of time and money into my boathouse, and I would like to keep it — especially since it’s directly across the street from my property and has been part of the property since it was built,” Fraser said. “We are current caretakers of this piece of Windermere history, and we would like to continue to maintain and look after those boathouses for a while.”
Some owners also pointed out details in the drafted lease agreement they were not in favor of and added that they wanted a seat at the negotiation table, too. A group of them banded together to hire land-use attorney Allison Turnbull to represent them.
“The framework in the lease is consistent with what was discussed at the workshop but there’s some issues,” Turnbull said. “There’s some questions in here and things that I think we want to clarify and maybe just tighten up a little bit.”
Town Council members and residents were divided regarding who owns the boathouse structures, although they agreed the town owns the land under them.
Council Member Loren “Andy” Williams said he sees the rights of the people who have held the boathouses for so long and knows they have a lot of sweat equity and memories in them. Council Member Bill Martini agreed.
“I’m not convinced … that the town can claim ownership of the boathouses,” Martini said. “I haven’t seen any documentation to support this other than the current lease. And I’m not convinced that Section 12 (of the lease) applies to the structures as well as the site.
“These residents have bought and sold these structures in good faith over the last 100 years,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right to just take these structures and deprive them of any and all equities. I think we can work together to get this worked out. The current lease does have a number of items that need to be tweaked.”
Town Council members voted to table the issue to allow for both parties to enter further negotiations and discussions of a draft lease. Martini will represent the Town Council, and Smith and Town Attorney Heather Ramos will represent the town. The boathouse owners will have their attorney and also will designate their own representative.