After an agreement could not be reached over a fair price for land needed for a city park, the city of Highland passed a resolution and filed an eminent domain suit against the Reilly family, in an attempt to obtain the land.
After applying and receiving a grant from USDA for the park, the city learned it would have to obtain more land to comply with specifications within the grant.
The proposed park and playground area will be located in Hidden Valley on Lake Mirandy. The city was able to purchase other lots needed for the park from the land owners at the appraised prices.
Jennifer Reilly, daughter of land owner Pete Reilly, said the family was never notified the city was interested in purchasing its property until she heard a news story on the radio.
She said, "We were never approached until we heard that." Reilly and her brother, Tim, talked to their father about the land and agreed $3,500 would be a fair price for the land, which borders the lake. Reilly said she was told the city would pay the fair market value which, according to documentation, is $2,286. The family refused the amount and questioned the park's location, off a main roadway. They also expressed concern that the park could be a hang out for drug activities.
In September, council offered the family $2,500, which was also refused.
Reilly said she spoke with Highland Mayor Richard Thornton on Oct. 8 and suggested they meet in the middle at $3,000. She said the family was served papers on Oct. 10 regarding the imminent domain lawsuit filed by the city.
Reilly said, "To me this whole thing is over $500, and wasting taxpayers time and money is ridiculous. The time they are wasting on this could be time they could actually be working on the park."
She said her brother responded to the lawsuit requesting a continuation to respond. She said she had legitimate concerns about the valuation of the land. Reilly said the fair market value listed was from January 2008, and she feels it should be updated. Reilly also explained the land wasn't up for sale, and if the city needed it, it should offer a price that is fair.
She explained their property taxes are not the same as they were in 2008, that they were higher, so it only makes sense the property values are higher. Reilly said she doesn't want people to think she is a bad person but she feels the price is not fair.
City Attorney Jon Abele said the city is still in negotiations with the family to settle the dipute to avoid a time consuming lawsuit. Reilly said she will present a proposal to her father for $3,000.
Because her father is incarcerated, the family is only able to visit monthly. Reilly said the decision will ultimately be up to her father. The city has not withdrawn the lawsuit but is hopeful a settlement with the family can be reached. Abele said, until the city has the signed deed in its hands, it cannot move forward with the park. The land being sought from the Reilly's borders the proposed park area on both sides.
Reilly said it would make sense for the city to purchase all the family's land, to make room for parking and boat trailers. In addition to the playground park, the city has also applied for a second grant through Arkansas Game and Fish for improvements to the boat dock.
When Reilly is released from prison, he will be required to register as a sex offender, making his property and home near the park useless to him. Due to Arkansas State sex offender registry regulations, sex offenders are prohibited from living near a park.
There was no indication how long the lawsuit might take if an agreement on the price is not reached.