The issue of regulating the use of road ends — publicly-dedicated streets that terminate at the edge of navigable waterways — has resurfaced in Lansing, with the state Senate recently approving a lakes area lawmaker’s bill seeking to govern the sites that provide public access to lakes and streams. Because the Senate bill caters to the wishes of most local riparian property owners and matches rulings by Michigan courts, we’re asking west Oakland’s House delegation to lobby on behalf of the bill’s final approval.
Road ends are places where public roadways dead end at the banks of a lake or stream. Most were created over 100 years ago to provide public access to waterways, but were intended only to be used for entering and exiting a body of water. There’s been abuse at road ends over the years, as some people have attempted to erect private docks and boat hoists, and used the sites as parks.
The conflict over road end uses has resulted in multiple court cases, particularly a pair of landmark cases related to northern Michigan’s Higgins Lake, which held that road ends may be used by the public to access a waterway, but may not be equipped with exclusive docks or boat hoists and can’t be used for sunbathing and lounging.
Yet the battle has raged on. During the last few legislative sessions in Lansing, lawmakers representing northern Michigan districts — where there are many rental properties and resorts serving vacationers — have drafted bills specifically authorizing construction of seasonal public docks and the use of boat hoists at road ends. In addition, such bills have sought to authorize sunbathing and lounging at road ends.
Such proposals are favored by the owners of back lot rental and resort properties, whose units would command higher rental fees if clients could use a road end down the block as a place to keep a boat and linger in beach-bum mode.
Here in Oakland County, riparian property owners and local governments more often than not bristle against the public using road ends as public access sites, let alone something like a beach or park. That holds true especially for those who own property immediately adjacent to road ends and point to sunbathing, lounging and otherwise lingering at the undeveloped, vacant road ends as nuisance activities that diminish their property values and quality of life.
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Milford, Highland, White Lake, West Bloomfield, Orchard Lake, Wixom, Walled Lake and Wolverine Lake) has sponsored Senate Bill (SB) 778 to codify road end rules already handed down by state judges in a couple of court cases — Jacobs vs. Lyon Township in 1993, and Higgins Lake Property Owners Association (HPLOA) vs. Gerrish Township in 2003.
The Michigan Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Jacobs case states a land plat dedication allowed the installation of one non-exclusive dock at each road end leading to Higgins Lake, while the HPLOA case maintained that while one non-exclusive dock could be constructed, private docks were not permitted and sunbathing, picnicking, lounging, and permanent mooring of boats at road ends can be prohibited by local governments.
According to Kowall, his SB 778 is simply “codifying” those rulings. Under SB 778, boat hoists or docks can’t be constructed, installed, maintained or used at a road end unless there is a recorded deed or easement that provides otherwise. The mooring or docking of a vessel between midnight and sunrise would be prohibited, as would any activity that obstructs entering or exiting the inland lake or stream through the road end. A single seasonal public dock or wharf could be installed and used, provided it has been authorized by the local unit of government that has jurisdiction over the road end.
Violation of the bill’s provisions would be a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $500.
With hundreds of road ends situated in Oakland County, reasonable statutory limits on road end uses should be adopted, despite the Jacobs and HPLOA case rulings. Although the Legislature can’t change a platted road end and can’t change its dedicated use, it can — and should — enact the court rulings as statutory law and penalties for violations.
Riparians living next to road ends would benefit from some basic protections against overuse and misuse of the access sites. Picnicking and sunbathing are activities that could easily become a nuisance for the owners of lakefront property adjacent to road ends who haven’t had to live with what amounts to park-like activity next to their properties. Keep in mind that road ends are undeveloped — there are no restrooms available, no trash receptacles, and no rangers on duty.
With so many road ends in Oakland County, local riparians would be wise to step forward and have their voices heard. Unless they want to see road end “parks” spring up all over the county, area riparians need to contact their state representatives and tell them to do what they must to ensure Kowall’s SB 778 is enacted.