“One of the things we do to benefit our organization is extend ourselves to the community and we have done more than our fair share to accommodate the city with their programs. Those days are over.”
— Mark Wick, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265, on the organization’s decision not to sell its land to the City of Craig.
A day after receiving an offer from the City of Craig to buy land commonly known as Craig City Park, representatives of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 said Thursday the parcel is no longer for sale.
“We’re withdrawing the offer for sale. It’s no longer for sale to the City of Craig,” said Larry Neu, quartermaster of VFW Post 4265. “That doesn’t mean it’s not for sale, but it’s not for sale to the City of Craig.”
“For any money or any considerations, period,” Mark Wick, commander of VFW Post 4265, added.
Although Wick and Neu said they do not intend to sell the park — which the men said is actually Veterans Park, not City Park — to the city, they will not issue a formal response until after a VFW members meeting Nov. 21.
“The formal reply from the VFW to the city will come after our Nov. 21 meeting at which any members in good standing who want to have any input in this need to be at the meeting that night,” Neu said. “My recommendation to the membership is going to be to give the city the boot and take possession of the park and operate it the way we want to operate it.”
Veterans Park encompasses 2.88 acres of open space on both sides of Washington Street between the VFW’s post at 419 E. Victory Way and the Craig Swimming Complex. VFW also owns the commercial lot along East Victory Way where the Marcia Car currently resides.
Neu said the city has leased the land from the VFW since 1949. Since the lease expired in 2009, Neu said negotiations for a new agreement with the city have been less than cordial.
“The city’s lease with the VFW expired in 2009 and they did not exercise their option to renew it,” Neu said. “We just thought by offering it to them, it would avoid the issues and negotiations we ran in to.”
As part of the potential purchase process, Craig City Council hired Grand Junction-based Arnie Butler & Company to appraise VFW’s land. Dave Pike, director of Craig Parks and Recreation Department, and the VFW received the results of the appraisal Tuesday.
Upon review of the results, the city presented the VFW with an offer Wednesday to purchase the property for the appraised value of $25,500.
“The appraisal is an insult to our organization and every veteran that is a member of this post or any veteran,” Wick said.
But, Wick said the VFW is not necessarily angry about the results of the appraisal. However, he and Neu are displeased with a story in Wednesday’s Craig Daily Press about Tuesday night’s city council meeting, during which councilman Byron Willems implied that the VFW should have negotiated a new lease agreement with the city when it had the chance.
“The newspaper and the city council must think we’re stupid old men,” Wick said. “The amount of heat we’ve been getting about this, you might as well have called us a bunch of feeble idiots.”
Neu addressed Willems’ comments directly.
“My reply to Councilman Willems is the city’s best chances are behind them,” he said. “They are assuming they are in the driver’s seat, controlling this piece of property and that’s what we’re going to take away from them.”
Willems said Thursday he stands by his comments.
“I didn’t mean to offend them,” Willems said. “But, it is what it is.
“My intent was they had a better deal a year ago before we even started negotiating,” Willems said. “In the past, they have received free water, free sewer and free trash for a long, long time. In return, we take care of the park and the public gets to use it. That’s a smoking deal right now.”
Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said Thursday he is authorized by city council to present the offer and is not permitted to comment on the VFW’s decision.
Craig Mayor Terry Carwile could not be reached for immediate comment Thursday evening.
Wick said the spirit of the VFW is to better the community, and believes its past dealings with the city have been example of that philosophy.
“One of the things we do to benefit our organization is extend ourselves to the community, and we have done more than our fair share to accommodate the city with their programs,” Wick said. “Those days are over.
“The nice guy, the handshake and the good ‘ol boys are yesterday’s news.”
Wick said he feels the VFW has been “used and abused” by the city.
“We’re not stupid and we’re not going to play into this bully game,” Wick said. “The best way to describe the city is that they’re carpetbaggers coming in to take advantage of the poor downtrodden.
“We are not downtrodden, we are not financially strapped and we are not mentally incapable of making good decisions.”
Neu also questioned the accuracy of deed restrictions covered in the appraisal that say VFW’s land can only be open space.
“Yes, there are some restrictions on it, but those restrictions say we can use it for any purpose to benefit our organization,” Neu said. “If I have to plow it up and make a community garden out of it, I’ll do it. Community gardens are a popular thing around the country right now.”
Wick said rather than continue to work with the city, he’d rather sell the land to an oil and gas company and let it drill, or simply fence off the entire property.
“I can string barbed wire just as easy as I can sign a lease with (the city),” Wick said. “I’ll have blackberries growing out there by spring.”
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