Lake residents hash over ordinance proposal with city reps

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
Shawnee City Hall was packed for a Ward 2 town hall meeting to discuss potential city ordinance changes at Shawnee Twin Lakes.

It looks like a lot of work still lies ahead for a recent city ordinance proposal regarding some updating of Shawnee Twin Lakes regulations, as well as the creation of framework for a commercial lake zone.

What leaders offered last week in an attempt to update city code — to make it line up with state law — turned out to spark some confusion and/or issues of concern for many lake residents. Also, the addition of framework that would create a process for permitting potential commercial activities was a hot topic among residents.

At Ward 2 City Commissioner Bob Weaver's urging, the ordinance proposal — introduced at the June 7 Commission meeting — was deferred and an informal get-together among residents in his ward immediately was slated through social media circles. The general public also was welcome to attend, though no official invitation was announced.

So, on Tuesday evening, City Hall was packed with Ward 2's Weaver and his fellow lake residents, along with City Manager Chance Allison, City Attorney Joe Vorndran and Public Works Director Brad Schmidt to talk about proposed changes that may affect residents visiting the Twin Lakes, as well as its lease-holders and land owners.

From left, Shawnee City Attorney Joe Vorndran, Shawnee City Manager Chance Allison, Ward 2 Shawnee City COmmissioner Bob Weaver and City of Shawnee Public Works Director Brad Schmidt sit on a panel of city leaders during a Ward 2 town hall meeting over potential changes in lake-related city code.

In order to offer a more open and casual discussion, most of the commission was advised to opt out of the meeting, Vorndran explained. If too many commissioners are together at an event (creating a quorum) certain rules kick in, which changes how the gathering must be conducted.

Shawnee City Attorney Joe Vorndran sits on a panel of city leaders  during a Ward 2 town hall meeting over potential changes in lake-related city code.

The two-hour event yielded nearly two dozen questions from speakers about several of the proposed changes, which included adjusted regulations for swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking and the game refuge — as well as enforcing existing code and the city's effort to create the construct for a commercial lake zone process.

Some confusion was spurred by the city's attempt to clean up ambiguous language.

Vorndran explained the necessity for more specific and consistent definitions, as well as the need to pay special attention to subtle differences in wording, because from a legal standpoint they can change a meaning substantially. Vague language can't be enforced, he said.

One of the meeting's speakers was former city commissioner Frank Sims, who was one of the leaders dealing with the same task to update lake rules in 2010.

Former Shawnee City Commissioner Frank Sims speaks during a Ward 2 town hall meeting over potential changes in lake-related city code.

He said back then a time-consuming process, including seven meetings with residents, was conducted to establish the code that's been in place the past 10 years.

“There is a lot that needs to be discussed and vetted,” he said.

One problem is there are still benefits and promises that were made to lake lease holders then that the city has failed to fulfill, he said, which has sparked some distrust.

“They don't have a lot of faith (in the city),” he said, explaining they were ensured there would be a lake ranger; lease rates were even tripled to boost funding earmarked for lake needs, like improving campgrounds and increasing patrol units in the area.

A recurring point of contention appeared to hinge around the difference between a requesting a rezone and applying for a conditional-use permit — more specifically when lake lease holders would be notified of activities/changes being proposed in the vicinity.

Currently, with a city rezone request, nearby residents must be notified before a hearing; that notification process isn't required for conditional-use permits. Also, since the city owns most of the land around the lakes, it technically wouldn't be required to let the lease holders know about rezone requests (only owners are afforded that consideration) — although Vorndran said that issue is being looked at and should be addressed.

Among some of the issues voiced were:

• the recently constructed kayak launch station in the canal between Lake No. 1 and Lake No. 2 was cited as a dangerous situation by some of the attendees;

• a water study was requested to determine potential impact to Shawnee's main water source by commercialization;

• concerns that new city ordinances take precedence over a lake lease agreement, and that current lease agreements could potentially be affected by a conflict with any new ordinance;

• enforcement and a heavy increase in patrol was requested;

• liability concerns were raised by lake lease holders regarding those fishing or using personal watercraft being afforded close access to docks or shorelines around the lake;

• the need for much improvement to lake roads

In the end, city leaders were left with several pages of notes and a variety of details to sort out.

It was encouraged by some lake residents that the present ordinance proposal be scrapped altogether and a committee be created and/or set up multiple meetings with stakeholders to create a new proposal.

Allison said with all the new information the meeting had generated, the city would be hard-pressed to get an updated version of the proposal ready in time to make it onto Monday night's agenda for review and/or a vote at the upcoming City Commission meeting.

Watch for updates.

For story ideas, questions or concerns, reporter Vicky O. Misa can be reached at vicky.misa@news-star.com.