Nearly 100 Farmington homeowners are worried that they soon will lose access to Lake Ann, a 25-acre stormwater pond that has become a favorite recreational spot, now that the city has purchased the shoreline property that residents must cross to swim or canoe there.
“Many of us bought or built our homes solely because of the recreational aspect of the lake,” said Kimberly Shuering at a City Council meeting this month. “I was sold the minute we walked into the model and looked out the back window and saw kids swimming.”
Homeowners in the Mystic Meadows neighborhood say they were promised lake access by builders or the developer, which had owned the eight parcels the city recently purchased. Officials estimate that about half the homeowners have installed firepits, docks or retaining walls along the pond’s shore, while others have created sand beaches.
Now residents fear they will have to remove the improvements since they are encroaching on city property, and that their access to the water could be limited as the city returns Lake Ann to what officials say is its original purpose — stormwater management.
So far, city officials have been vague about possible changes for the pond. Residents may submit comments about Lake Ann through May 8, and its future will be discussed at a work session.
More than 100 residents, many wearing black and orange “Save Lake Ann” T-shirts, attended a community meeting Tuesday and plied city officials with queries, including what would become of the changes they had made to the shoreline area. Many said they had spent time and money removing pesky willow plants.
Katy Gehler, public works director, told the residents that city code now allows them to mow a 10-foot strip of land to get access to Lake Ann, and that nonmotorized boats are still permitted there.
“I don’t want to speak for the council,” she said. “[But] I don’t think the city and the neighborhood are far apart on where we’re at.” But she acknowledged things could change.
“There has been no consistency on the side of the city with some of the communication,” said Holly Bernatz, a resident who organized the Save Lake Ann group. “The worry is, can you change the [city] code? Do you intend to change the code?”
Council Member Joshua Hoyt said he didn’t think recreation would be prohibited. Even so, residents pointed to a quote from Hoyt in the local paper saying boats and canoes aren’t allowed on Lake Ann. Hoyt said he was misquoted and that he had actually said motorized boats aren’t allowed.
Hoyt said that any decision about Lake Ann should take into account residents’ opinions, including those who want the pond to be natural and used only for stormwater management. Hoyt said he’s received six or eight e-mails from residents who feel that way.
“There are citizens that live on Lake Ann that are on both sides of this,” Hoyt said. “If we just said, ‘OK, just leave it as it is,’ you’re not doing anything for the people … who don’t have a dock or who don’t go out there and put a paddleboard out.”
Layers to consider
The first houses went up at Mystic Meadows in northeast Farmington in 2005, and at least five builders have built homes there since. In the middle of the development sits Lake Ann, an oddly shaped body of water that residents say is at least 30 to 40 feet deep.
From the start, residents said they heard mixed messages about Lake Ann’s intended use. Some buyers were sold homes “on the shores of Lake Ann” and were promised recreational use by their builder or developer.
Residents in the Save Lake Ann group point to a 2005 e-mail exchange between Robin Hanson, a member of the Parks and Recreation board, and Parks Director Randy Distad. Hanson pointed out uncertainties surrounding Lake Ann’s purpose and said it could cause confusion later.
“Both the developer and the city have indicated this is a public body of water. However, city staff has indicated it is a stormwater pond that will be maintained by the city and as such is not available for recreational uses,” Hanson wrote. “Bottom line is that the city and developer need to agree on the uses available and answer questions by potential buyers consistently.”
At that time, developers in Farmington retained ownership of certain parcels, such as those adjacent to stormwater ponds, until the development was finished. The deeds to those lots were then to be given to the city for management and maintenance. The initial developer of Mystic Meadows, Giles Properties Inc., went bankrupt, making those plots state property.
As a government agency, Farmington could buy the parcels outright from the state for $2,400, Gehler said, before they went to public auction. The city did so in April.
Resident Shawn McCormick, who was at the meeting Tuesday, said later he had spent $3,000 to $4,000 adding steps down to the water and planting trees and natural grasses. “I’ve got it set up perfectly,” he said.
Bernatz said she had spent about $5,000 excavating willows, made a path and installed a fishing platform. She said it would be “devastating” if the city made significant changes to rules regarding Lake Ann.
“There’s a lot that would have to be taken into consideration, least of all my property value. If that’s not a recreational lake, I way overpaid for my house,” she said.
Hoyt said that the city needs time to think things through. “What if we make the wrong decision?” he said. “There’s a lot of layers we have to at least consider.”
As the meeting ended, Bernatz addressed the room. “This is our home,” she said. “Many of us were sold something that’s different than what you’re telling us we now have.”