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City leaders have agreed to ask the Norfolk Southern Railway to donate a piece of land on East Liberty Street to the city so residents who want to establish a park there can move forward.
York Mayor Eddie Lee said both the city and the railway believe they own the downtown patch of land in front of the Greater York Chamber of Commerce, where the park is proposed. He said there are competing ownership documents that date to the late 1800s.
The council voted last week to direct city attorney Bill Brice to contact Norfolk Southern and either request that the railway donate its ownership rights to the city, or lease the property “at a nominal rate,” he said.
Lee said there are no plans to take the matter to court. “We’re not going to sue Norfolk Southern, because Bill Brice said that’s costly and there’s no guarantee that you’ll win and it could go on for a long time,” Lee said.
York residents Elizabeth Brice, wife of the city attorney, and Jeanne Ferguson approached the council last month, seeking support for plans to establish a park on the land. But city officials told them there’s been a longtime ownership dispute over the land in front of the chamber office.
“The million-dollar question is, who owns the property?” said council member Mark Boley, chairman of a city recreation committee, during a council discussion of the issue last week. He added that the railroad can be “difficult to work with, as many of us are aware.”
After the meeting, Bill Brice said it’s not clear to him who owns the property.
“There are thousands of records that the railroad has,” Brice said, referring to the ownership question. “We’re not going to pursue that angle. We’re going to see what we can work out with them.”
Lee said such land ownership disputes are not uncommon. “They were plats that were done without modern technology, and they were done by surveyors who were often amateurish in their methods,” he said.
However, Boley and Lee both spoke in support of the plans for a park. “It will enhance downtown,” Lee said. “It would be an asset to downtown. And the railroad is not coming back to York.”
Elizabeth Brice has said cost estimates for the park range from $130,000 to $250,000, depending on the extent of improvements. Tentative plans, she told the council, call for a band pavilion, arbor and fountain, trees, benches, some walkways and low-maintenance plantings.
A landscape designer contributed preliminary design drawings, she said.
Ferguson said organizers believe they could raise some funds, perhaps through local memorial gifts of trees and benches. And she said they might be able to obtain some grant funding.
Lee said a resolution of the ownership issue would allow the park project to move forward.
“Then we’re over a major hurdle,” he said. “Then that group can start raising money and we can start identifying funding sources and we can start seeing if we can make the park a reality.”