2009-12-12 / Top News

Mackinac Island City Council Discusses Future of East Bluff Steps

By Karen Gould

The city has been offered an easement for these concrete steps by the Rowe Terrace Condominium Association, which no longer wants to accept liability for them. At the end of Church Street, they anchor a wood stairway to the East Bluff (to the right, in the trees) that is is owned and maintained by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. The city has been offered an easement for these concrete steps by the Rowe Terrace Condominium Association, which no longer wants to accept liability for them. At the end of Church Street, they anchor a wood stairway to the East Bluff (to the right, in the trees) that is is owned and maintained by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. An easement for the concrete steps at the end of Church Street has been offered to the city by Rowe Terrace Condominium Association, which doesn't want the liability that comes with having a publicly used stairway on its property. It hopes the city will assume the responsibility for the steps, which anchor the state park's wooden stairway to the East Bluff.

The offer was made to City Council Wednesday, November 18, and discussed Wednesday, December 9, at a meeting of the Streets Committee, which decided to ask the city's insurance company for a liability assessment.

The Mackinac Island State Park Commission has constructed and maintained the wooden stairway. Nobody has maintained the concrete steps.

"We know the land on which a portion of the steps are located, the bottom steps, belongs to Rowe condominium," said city attorney Tom Evashevski during the council meeting. "We looked into it and we are unable to determine who built the steps or who owns the steps, but they have been used by the public forever. Absent better history, the only conclusion we can come to is the bottom steps belong to Rowe Condominium."

Until recently, the city owned two of the condominium units, which it used to house its police force. It sold one of the units several years ago and is trying to sell the other.

The park is not willing to maintain or take responsibility for the concrete steps, said Park Director Phil Porter during the committee meeting Wednesday.

"Because they are not on state park property," he said, "it would not be appropriate for us to maintain them in any way. We haven't done any maintenance on them in the 40 years I've been here."

If the city accepts the easement, Mr. Evashevski said, the association's lot dimensions wold be maintained for the purposes of density and setback allowances under city zoning. The condominium association also asked that the city not install bicycle racks in the easement area.

"We can say that the council so decides we don't have any intention of putting in bike racks," said Mr. Evashevski, "but we can't commit future councils as to what they do with public rights-of-way."

The edge of the road rightof way is right along the east edge of the steps, said zoning administrator Dennis Dombroski.

If the city does not accept the easement, said Mr. Evashevski, the association likely will remove the steps.

Committee member Jason St. Onge questioned the legalities of the easement with concerns that the condominium association would, at a later time, revoke the easement.

"We're kind of backed in the corner as it is now," he said. "We're going to be the ultimate bad guys if we don't accept this. What keeps this safe so the terms of the agreement don't change down the road?"

Mr. Evaskevski said once approved, the easement to maintain the steps would be permanent. If the city chose not to maintain the steps, the purpose of the easement might fail and revert to the property owner, however, the association can't change the terms of the easement.

"As to our responsibility for maintenance, we've never maintained them during the winter," he said, and suggested a simple sign indicating the steps are not maintained and advising to use "at your own risk" probably would suffice.

The steps are crooked, said Armand "Smi" Horn, who suggested the steps might be removed and replaced with a gravel path leading to the wooden stairway.

Gravel would wash out on the steep incline, said Mr. Dombroski.

"They actually are not even a set of steps, per code," said Mr. Dombroski. "They are almost like one platform to another. The tread depths are too deep to be steps. It's like a two-foot platform to another two-foot platform going up the hill. It's a whole lot safer walking up what is there than it is to walk up the grass alongside of them."

Mr. Horn expressed concern for the lifespan of the stairs.

"I'm thinking they are going to last as they are right now for quite a few more years before they start crumbling to the point we're going to have to jack-hammer them out."

The city is not obligated to retain responsibility for the steps any longer than it chooses, said Mr. Evaskevski.

If the city decided a year from now or 10 years from now that it no longer wanted the steps, the easement would revert back to the association, said Mr. Evashevski.

The committee agreed to continue discussions after contacting its insurance carrier. The next meeting has not been scheduled.

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