WINONA LAKE — The town of Winona Lake is taking steps to prevent lots with water access from being cut to ribbons.
In a process called funneling, the Winona Lake Plan Commission heard Tuesday night, May 1, that land owners had cleverly sold off tiny strips of land for water access, which in turn transformed the once sizable lots into pencil-thin parcels.
“Funneling, for those of you who don’t know what that refers to, is the division of lots where they are cut into very thin strips and where it occurs most frequently is for access to one of the waterways,” said Winona Lake Building Commissioner Gene Seiman.
Seiman told the board that until about a year and a half ago, this practice was virtually unheard of in the town.
“Then, I was approached by someone who owned a lot out in the south town area who said ‘I have a big lot and I don’t want to use the whole lot to get down to the channel to run my boat in. I don’t have a residence on the property, can I cut a little slice off?’” said Seiman.
“At the time, I checked the regulations and we didn’t have any restrictions as far as dividing lots so I said ‘sure.’”
According to Seiman, the property owner responded by saying “Fine, I’m just gonna cut off 15 feet and that will give me access and no one will even know it’s there.”
Seiman continued by saying “it sounded like a reasonable plan. Next thing I know, he sold, at 15 feet a whack, the entire lot. So, now we have about 12 15-foot strips going from one of the south town roads to one of the channels. We have absolutely no control over what’s stored on those lots, which means that by and large they could be pontoon storage or multiple pontoon storage. I don’t know if that’s really what south town people wanted, was a series of 15-foot strips that give a whole lot of people access to Winona Lake now.”
Seiman, with the assistance of Town Coordinator Craig Allebach, showed the board the satellite view of the property which included the new property lines and showed multiple vessels parked within several of the strips.
Seiman told the board that the town has rules governing minimum lot size, but stressed that the rule is for lots designed for residential dwellings. “We’re vulnerable to that happening a lot,” Seiman said.
A motion was made by board Vice Chairperson Jill Serbousek to issue an immediate moratorium on such land divisions and the board decided to have Town Attorney Jim Walmer draft an ordinance for approval by the town council to prevent any further funneling.
“This is good because in case somebody comes in and tries, we can say ‘no, we’ve got this right now,’” said Allebach.