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File photot: One of the boathouses being built by the Grimditch family. Photo: Nathan Brown, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise
File photot: One of the boathouses being built by the Grimditch family. Photo: Nathan Brown, courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Court reverses boathouse jurisdiction ruling

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A state appeals panel ruled last week that the town of North Elba does have jurisdiction over boathouses on Lake Placid. The decision could set precedent for municipalities across the North Country. The appeals court also made the surprise ruling that it had decided two past cases incorrectly. That changes the legal framework for cases like this one in the future. Chris Morris has details

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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North Elba attorney Ron Briggs says town officials and adjacent property owners are pleased with the court’s ruling, which reinstates a suit the town brought against William Grimditch Jr. and his family. Grimditch built a pair of boathouses on Lake Placid in 2010 without a permit from the town.

“It’s what we thought it should be all along, and the Appellate Division agreed with us,” Briggs said. “What’s interesting is that it dealt with a very, very complex area of law in a way that neither the town nor the Grimditches thought it would.”

John Privitera represents the McMillin and Moccia families, who live next-door to the Grimditches and who objected to construction of the new boathouses. Privitera said, “It’s a landmark decision that defines the rights of landowners on private lakes and protects them against illegal structures.”

Lake Placid attorney Jim Brooks, who represents the Grimditch family, said Thursday he was reviewing the decision and planned to discuss it with his clients. Brooks also expressed surprise that the court reversed two long-standing decisions which Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer had referenced while ruling in favor of the Grimditch family. In last week’s ruling, the appeals court overturned Meyer’s decision, concluding, “We cannot agree that the Navigation Law preempts the power of local municipalities to administer and enforce local land use laws.”

The court also ruled that Lake Placid is not owned by the state “in its sovereign capacity,” and the state’s jurisdiction doesn’t pre-empt local land-use laws. The court said that the land-use code is applicable because most of Lake Placid falls within the town’s boundaries. As part of its ruling, the Appellate Division said previous decisions which suggest “Navigation Law displaces local land use laws on navigable waters that are not owned by the State in its sovereign capacity” should no longer be followed.

Briggs says this was a rare case of an appeals panel overturning itself. “So now that the land-use code is applicable and they built without permits and that was improper, we have to go back now and take a look at the complaint that we filed in which we asked the court to force the removal of the boathouses as well as impose fines and sanctions for the improper construction of them,” he added.

The Grimditch family belongs to the Lake Placid Shore Owners Association, but that group sided with the town. Its president, Mark Wilson, says his group depends on the land-use code to protect Lake Placid’s shoreline. “Without it, the shoreline would be trashed,” Wilson said. “And it’s of utmost importance that the community recognizes the authority the local land-use code has over the development of the lakeshore.”

This case comes as part of a long-running debate in the Adirondacks over the legal framework shaping construction of boathouses. The town of Santa Clara in Franklin County was also embroiled in litigation over a boathouse for several years. In 2010, the state Adirondack Park Agency enacted controversial new regulations designed to limit the size and shape of boathouses.

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