City, VFW exchange letters in park negotiations

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Page one of a letter from the City of Craig to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 from March 29.

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Page two of a letter from the City of Craig to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 from March 29.

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Letter from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 to the City of Craig from April 7.

Quotable

“It’s really pretty upsetting to be threatened with eminent domain. We consider it to be an act of aggression and it will not be taken lightly.”

Larry Neu,

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 quartermaster

Tensions between the Craig City Council and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 seemed to ease when the groups met in late January to discuss Craig City Park.

But a recent exchange of letters again has put the fate of the park in question.

On March 7, following speculation the VFW was exploring legal avenues to have certain deed restrictions lifted from City Park, Craig City Manager Jim Ferree issued a letter to VFW Post Commander Dave Walters.

The letter was initiated by city council members concerned that, if successful in removing the deed restrictions, the VFW would be in possession of valuable commercial real estate it could put up for sale, eliminating park space.

The Women’s Civic Improvement Club donated the property to the VFW in October 1947 with the intent it remain a community park.

Ferree requested the VFW respond to his March 7 letter within two weeks to inform the city of its intentions, but the VFW did not respond within that timeframe.

On March 29, Ferree issued another letter to Walters stating the city would exercise its right to acquire the park through eminent domain if the city did not receive an explanation of the VFW’s plans by Friday.

“It’s really pretty upsetting to be threatened with eminent domain,” VFW Post Quartermaster Larry Neu said. “We consider it to be an act of aggression and it will not be taken lightly.”

The VFW reported in an April 4 response letter to the city it’s not the organization’s intention to remove the deed restrictions as a preliminary step to selling the property.

“We don’t want to sell the park, we want it to remain a park, too,” Neu said. “We’re looking at removing the deed restrictions to eliminate the ridiculous 90-percent devaluation by the city’s appraiser.”

Also attached to the VFW’s response letter was an amended lease Neu said the VFW membership would agree to.

The city and VFW drafted lease terms during the January meeting. Terms included: an annual payment from the city to the VFW for the nonprofit’s utility costs; continued maintenance and improvements to the park by city employees; city assistance in erecting a VFW Memorial; a lease period of 25 years; and a name change from Craig City Park to Veterans Memorial Park.

However, Neu said VFW members are not agreeable to a 25-year lease term or an annual utility refund.

The amended lease reflects the VFW’s preference for a five-year lease and a monthly $1,000 payment.

Ferree received the response letter Friday, but would not comment on the park’s future until city council members discuss the issue Tuesday during its regularly scheduled meeting.

“I’m glad to have a written response to my letter and a counter offer,” Ferree said. “I’m happy to see lease negotiations are back on.”

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