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Published: Monday, 2/17/2003

Oregon resident sues tiny village

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An Oregon man believes Harbor View has been renting land illegally to the Harbor View Yacht Club for more than 50 years.

Michael Wegrzyn, who until September was a member of the yacht club's executive board, has sued the tiny village in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for alleged misuse of the land.

Hailed as Ohio's smallest village, Harbor View consists of three streets with small lakeside houses. The 2000 U.S. Census reported the village population at 99 people. The village, once a popular summer attraction, was incorporated in 1921.

Mr. Wegrzyn is asking the court to enforce a clause in a 1940 deed that calls for four parcels to be used as “a public park and benefit of the general public.” He filed the lawsuit this month.

“That property is supposed to be a park for the public, but it has always been rented to the yacht club. The club has always known about the deed. The village has always known about it,” Mr. Wegryzn said.

The village and the yacht club are negotiating a lease to replace one that expired in May. The yacht club is paying about $400 a month while a new lease is being worked out. The village wants to increase the monthly rent to $1,200.

Craig Dippman, a former Harbor View mayor, believes Mr. Wegryzn's complaint is a retaliatory measure for his failed effort to obtain a lease on the property himself.

“This is all because of bad blood. He got thrown out of the yacht club, and he wants somebody to pay for it,” said Mr. Dippman, who resigned in December after he moved out of the village.

Mr. Wegryzn was suspended from the club in September after he put in a bid to lease the property, directly competing with the yacht club for use of the land. Mr. Wegryzn submitted the winning bid of $1,500 a month in July, but withdrew the offer several weeks later.

He said he went through the bid process to obtain information about the original deed. However, an attorney who represented Mr. Wegryzn told the village in a letter that he retracted the bid because he didn't believe the lease would include access to docks.

Jeff Zilba, village solicitor, said council members were concerned about whether he was financially able to afford the lease and eagerly released him from the bid. “We were as confused as anyone as to why he made the bid in the first place,” he said.

Mr. Wegryzn filed a lawsuit in October against the yacht club to have the six-month suspension lifted. According to documents filed in Oregon Municipal Court, the sanction was imposed because of his failed attempt to lease the property.

In his lawsuit against the village, Mr. Wegryzn included a copy of the original deed showing that the property was conveyed to the village by Byron A. Case. The deed stipulated that the property should remain open to public use.

Mr. Wegryzn does not have an attorney and is representing himself in the civil suit, which has been assigned to Judge Ruth Ann Franks.

“I feel the public has been getting short-changed. The village was given the deed and expected to administer the property for the general good of the public. But they have not acted in good faith. They have been shafting the public,” Mr. Wegryzn said.

Mr. Dippman defended the village's use of the property. He said part of the land that Mr. Case gave to the village is used as a community park.

Mr. Zilba predicted the village will win in court. He said only the immediate family of Mr. Case would have legal standing to dispute the village's use of the land. If the village's use of the land is an issue, they should have contested it in court years ago, he said.

“This, as far as I can see, should be thrown out rather quickly. This has been challenged before and upheld,” Mr. Dippman said.

Indeed, the village and the yacht club have feuded in court over the property before.

The yacht club, then called the Harbor View Boating & Sportsmen's Club, entered into a 25-year lease with the village in 1952, paying $1 a year for the four parcels. A rider was added in 1957 that would have raised the rent payments to $100 a year in 1977.

However, a council member, on behalf of the village, sued the yacht club in common pleas court in 1977 to have the 25-year lease declared invalid and the land made a public park.

Avalene Petrella said then the lease was illegal because the mayor and two councilmen who approved ordinances pertaining to the lease and ensuing rider were members and office holders in the yacht club, an apparent conflict of interest.

A year later, a resolution was reached in which the yacht club was ordered to make $200 monthly rent payments through 1987. The judgment called for a $100 increase thereafter until the lease ended in 2002 with adjustments for changes in the Consumer Price Index. The yacht club paid $2,500 to the village for an easement for a driveway.

The club commodore, other officer holders, and Michael Messenger, an attorney for the yacht club, could not be reached for comment.



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