Trustees grapple with lot assessment

Board, president tussle over mystery strip of land on which village failed to complete paperwork
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Fredonia Village Board finds itself in a tangle over a 6.7-foot-wide strip of land that, it was recently discovered, nobody owns, but which the village wants to assess its board president for $22,000.

The dispute involves one of three lots Village President Don Dohrwardt bought in 1978 on South Milwaukee Street south of Wheeler Avenue and was recorded as being 276.7 feet deep. However, unbeknownst to Dohrwardt and everyone else, the seller recorded an amended deed seven months later showing that 6.7 feet of the lot did not belong to the property Dohrwardt had just bought.

In 2004, Stoney Creek Lane at the back of the lot was developed, opening the Dohrwardt lots to the possibility of being subdivided and developed, making them more valuable. The Village Board, accordingly, voted to levy an assessment on those properties to help pay for the road. Dohrwardt was a trustee on the board at the time.

“At the time I realized I would end up with frontage on this new road and would end up with an assessment,” Dohrwardt said. “I was looking forward to some day I would be able to cut the lot in half and would end up with the ability to make a few bucks so it was appropriate I would have to pay a few bucks.”

The amended deed was not discovered during the development or street construction at that time, however.

“You would think they would have when they did their own title search,” he said.

Dohrwardt theorized that the piece is a remnant of the original homestead that occupied that area in the 1800s and over the decades was sold off in pieces.

The presence of the rogue plot only came to light this year when Dohrwardt went to sell his property and a title search revealed the existence of the 6.7-foot strip and that it separates Dohrwardt’s land from Stoney Creek Lane so that he has no frontage on the street.

And, Dohrwardt argued last week to the Village Board, no benefit from it, meaning he should not have to pay the assessment, which today totals $22,000.

Complicating matters for the Village Board is that the original resolution in 2005 to levy the assessment was only preliminary and was never finalized, Village Clerk Sandi Tretow said. Making it official would have required a report to the Village Board from the Public Works director at the time and a public hearing would have to be held. 

Neither was ever done, she said.

Then Dohrwardt’s discovery came to light.

“Just a shot out of the blue,” he called it. “Nobody knew it existed.”

At the July 5 Village Board meeting, trustees weren’t eager to let Dohrwardt off the hook on the assessment and even less eager to pay $1,200 to $1,500 to have the land surveyed and do a title search to confirm the size and extent of the 6.7-foot strip.

Trustee John Long proposed the village pay for the survey and search, but his motion died for lack of a second.

“Why do we have to pay for it?’ Trustee Jill Bertram asked Dohrwardt. “We’re spending a lot of time and money helping you clear this.”

“Because it’s a village mistake,” Long answered.

Village Attorney Johnathan Woodward advised the board to approve Long’s motion.

“If the board wants to move forward with the special assessment, then due diligence would require the board to have the survey done,” he said.

“I don’t see an immediate benefit to the village of paying for a survey,” Trustee Richard Abegglen said.

“It’s important because the village is seeking to exercise its taxing powers. It needs all the information it can get,” Woodward said.

Dohrwardt recused himself from the board during the discussion and sat in the audience, but occasionally commented or asked questions.

“I maintain to the village you can’t charge me for frontage costs if I don’t have frontage,” he said. 

Abegglen moved that the board defer action on the “topic” they were discussing, which covered two items on the agenda — whether to pay for the survey and title search and whether to impose the special assessment.

Ultimately, the board voted 6-0, with Dohrwardt recusing himself, in favor of Abegglen’s motion and to take up the issue again when it meets on Aug. 2. But no direction was given to village staff to prepare additional reports or collect more information.

Looking for guidance, some board members asked Woodward if he was aware of a similar case ever occurring in the state of Wisconsin.

Woodward said he was not.

Dohrwardt said he may ask questions during the public comment portion of the board’s July 19 meeting about whether the board has a plan to get additional information.

“New information isn’t going to fall out of the sky and land on their nose. They need to be certain they have reasonable authority to levy the assessment,” Dohrwardt said.



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