Four-hour hearing in beach property case; no timeline for verdict
BY JOHN ROBBINS Post-Tribune correspondent October 17, 2013 11:10PM
Former bus stops are still one way for the public to gain access to the Lake Michigan shore. Each stop has a 40-foot-wide public right-of-way to the beach from Lake Shore Drive. | John Robbins/For the Post-Tribune
Updated: November 19, 2013 6:32AM
LAPORTE — Dozens of people showed up to hear arguments Thursday in a beach property rights case that could have far-reaching implications.
“This is probably a record-setting crowd,” said LaPorte County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Alevizos as he surveyed the audience of about 40 people, who nearly filled the area of the courtroom reserved for spectators.
They were there to hear arguments in the case of Long Beach Lakefront Homeowners Association against the town of Long Beach, Ind.
Attorneys for all parties involved agreed the trial is breaking new ground in Indiana by trying to fix the boundaries of private property along the shore of Lake Michigan.
“Something tells me this case is going to be decided by five guys in Indianapolis,” Alevizos said, referring to the Indiana Supreme Court.
The homeowners association contends the private property of the lakefront homeowners extends from their lot lines along Lake Shore Drive all the way north to the water’s edge, regardless of where the water happens to be.
Intervening defendants Alliance for the Great Lakes, Save the Dunes and the Long Beach Community Alliance argued that private property rights only extend to what is known as the “ordinary high water mark” of Lake Michigan. The land beyond that point, to the water’s edge, is state-owned public property, they contend.
Attorneys turned to the distant past to support their claims, relying on surveyor’s notes from 1829, the Indiana Constitution of 1816 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Even pre-revolutionary English common law was cited in asserting ownership claims.
Long Beach attorney Charles Lukmann acknowledged that the case was interesting and scholarly but made plain that all the town was interested in was getting out of the lawsuit.
“The northern boundary is not my issue,” he said.
Long Beach precipitated the suit by passing a resolution that restricted town police from enforcing private property ordinances on lakefront beach property.
Plaintiffs contend that represents an unlawful taking of property by denying them proper protection of their property.
Lukmann argued that the plaintiffs were only using the resolution as a vehicle to bring the suit to court. “The town is not the right defendant,” he said, adding that the state was the rightful defendant.
Even Alevizos seemed struck by the conspicuous absence of the state. “Where is the state of Indiana? Aren’t they a necessary party?”
After four hours of arguments Alevizos adjourned the hearing to take the matter under advisement. No date has been set for issuing a verdict in the case.