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Although neighboring property owners had right to use and enjoy beachfront property, only front lot owners had exclusive riparian rights

The court held that the trial court did not err by ruling that the beach at issue was not public, but should have vacated certain of the platted roads in their entirety. The plaintiff-township sued the defendants-property owners seeking to settle all of the disputes between the owners. The trial court held that the owners in the subdivision had a right to use and enjoy the beach "for usual and ordinary beach activities," but the front lot owners adjacent to the beach had exclusive riparian rights. It also held that certain platted roads had never been formally accepted and had been encroached upon in various ways by property owners, but that the roads should only be vacated to the extent of permanent structures thereon. On appeal, the court rejected the back lot owners' argument that the beach should either be public or they should have coextensive riparian rights with the front lot owners. "Because the front lot owners have not cross-appealed the trial court's finding that the beach is a private beach for use by all property owners in the subdivision, we do not disturb that finding . . . . " Further, "such a finding is a reasonable implication from the beach's inclusion in the plat as something seemingly distinct from either the streets or the lots. We note that the trial court explicitly held that nothing in its holding was intended to affect the public trust in the bottomlands." As such, the trial court did not err by holding that "only the front lot owners have riparian rights . . . ." It also rejected the back lot owners' argument that the trial court should not have vacated portions of the beach landward of the seawalls erected thereon, which would preclude them from enjoying the beach during times when the water is high. "The evidence showed that the front lot owners had constructed not only seawalls but also fences, some dating back more than half a century, and had used those areas exclusively. Objections to vacating land based on scenic beauty or lake access when principle routes of access would remain undisturbed are not reasonable." Lastly, the court agreed with one of the property owners that the trial court erred by refusing to vacate certain of the platted roads in their entirety. "[T]he only evidence that any of the back lotters had actually used those platted streets was vague . . . ." In contrast, "the evidence showed that [the property owners] erected fences in 1952 and other structures within those fences thereafter, which, under the circumstances, gives every indication of being unambiguously and openly hostile to any possible use of the land as streets." Thus, they "adversely possessed the land that they fenced-in." Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


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