Park Closing Leaves Landowner Baffled

County: No Consensus on New Lease

A park that has served the Blair community since 1985 is no more, prompting apologies from Fairfield County and leaving the property owner confused.

Fairfield County officially announced the closing of the Blair Community Park at 544 99 Road Nov. 6, citing in a press release an inability of the County to come to terms with the property owner on a new lease. But Felicia Trower, who has power of attorney for her mother, Nancy T. Young, the property owner, said the County never made a legitimate effort to reach a new agreement.

According to Davis Anderson, Deputy County Administrator, the County’s most recent seven-year lease expired in August. The County had been paying $1,200 a year for the property, which contained a basketball court, walking trail and playground equipment. County documents state that Anderson and Lori Schaeffer, Director of the County’s Recreation Department, met with Trower as early as July 20, 2009 to discuss a potential purchase of the property by the County. According to the documents, Trower requested between $200,000 and $300,000 for the plot, which Anderson said was no larger than 3 acres. The price tag was too rich for the County’s blood, and in September of this year, Sheila Pickett, Director of Procurement, spoke with Trower by phone to begin negotiations on a new lease, the documents state. According to the documents, Trower wanted $6,000 a year for a new lease and would not consider the previous price of $1,200 per year.

With no consensus in sight, the County opted to close the park. In late September, crews from the Public Works and Recreation departments removed all the equipment, the basketball goals, the concrete basketball court and the concrete walking trail. After 27 years of service, the park was gone.

But Trower said the County mishandled the entire process. She admitted that she never intended to sell the property and threw out a figure of $100,000 – not $200,000 or $300,000 – “in jest” because she knew it was unacceptable. The $6,000 figure for a new lease, she said, was only a starting point for negotiations; negotiations she said the County never followed up on.

Furthermore, Trower said, she doesn’t even know who Lori Schaeffer is.

“I’ve never heard of Lori Schaeffer,” Trower said. “I’ve never had a word with her.”

Trower said the County never even notified her that the lease was about to expire, but that it was she, Trower herself, who discovered that the lease was up and initiated contact with the County. Even then, she said, it took several phone calls to Pickett to get any kind of response.

“She (Pickett) asked me what I wanted for it,” Trower said. “I said $6,000. In the past, we had always negotiated it. When I told her (Pickett) $6,000, she never got back to me. I called her back again, and she told me the County was not going to renew the lease. I threw the figure out there thinking they would negotiate. But they didn’t. No one ever got back to me.”

A letter from Pickett on County letterhead, dated Sept. 10, 2012 and addressed to Trower, officially notified Trower of the County’s decision. Anderson said the County had been trying to work out a deal with Trower since July 2009. When the County ran two months over on the lease during the negotiation process, Anderson said, Trower was paid $200 by the County. A request by Trower for fencing around the property was denied, according to County documents. After the equipment was removed, the property was re-seeded for grass, the County said.

“Lori Schaeffer, Director of the Recreation Department, had the pleasure of speaking with the landowner on several occasions,” the Nov. 6 press release from the County states. “Lori said, ‘It is unfortunate that we could not reach an agreement for leasing the property to help the community’.”

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