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Confusion and mistrust as boathouse owners get 30 days to vacate structures

Instant Photo Poster
Norine Dworkin


Tuesday, April 19, 2022


Norine Dworkin

Ann Fanelli, who owns Boathouse #2, is fighting to hold onto her boathouse.

Owners of the five boathouses at Windermere’s Palmer Park were expecting the worst when the town council on March 8 approved a motion to mail out 60-day notification letters terminating the residents’ right-of-access leases.

But when the letters began arriving in mailboxes  starting April 4, the boathouse owners were perplexed and thought the town was pulling a fast one. Dated March 31, 2022, and signed by Mayor Jim O’Brien, the letters gave a termination date of May 7, 2022. Instead of 60 days, the letter was giving the boathouse owners 38 days to vacate, effectively shortchanging them 22 days.

Judging from the calendar, it appears town officials started the 60-day termination clock on the day after council members voted to send the termination letters out — March 9 to May 7 is 60 days. But council members never said that that’s when they planned to start the clock. Boathouse owners said they were confused about what turned out to be 30-day notice of termination letters. So was their attorney, Kurt Ardaman of the Winter Park firm, Fishback Dominick.

Ardaman said in an interview that the notice was inconsistent with the council’s authorization. “I don’t know why they did it that way. It seems consistent with the way the [town] has treated these boathouse owners from the beginning.”

Windermere mayor, Jim O’Brien, told VoxPopuli the letters were sent out in error. He texted VoxPopuli this statement:

“The lease termination was approved at the March 8, 2022, town council meeting. The month-to-month lease extension previously signed by the leaseholders dictates 30 days notice of termination. Town council granted 60 days at the meeting. Revised terminations will be mailed to all leaseholders with a revised termination date … 30 days from May 7. No boathouse leaseholders brought this to the attention of staff or myself for correction to date. All boathouse leaseholders will have 60 days notice of termination.”

VoxPopuli asked O’Brien via text whether this was simply a clerical error, meaning if anyone checked whether the date was correct on the letters before they were mailed. As of press time, he had not responded.

The town has been wrangling over the five Palmer Park boathouses for decades. The structures, privately owned since their construction between 1910 and 1915, routinely changed hands via quit-claim deeds or bills of sale. In the mid-1980s, the town sought to bring them under its control, coercing the owners into signing a 15-year lease in 1986, under threat of a lawsuit. In 2001, the leases were extended. Since the last least expired Feb. 28, 2021, the owners have been on month-to-month leases. Although they own the actual boathouse structures, the state owns the water and lake bed, while Windermere owns the grassy area by which access is gained to the boathouses.

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