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Highland settles eminent domain lawsuit

Monday, December 26, 2011

Highland Mayor Richard Smith presents Jennifer Reilly with a check for land owned by her family, allowing the city to move forward with plans for a new city park to be located on Lake Mirandy in Hidden Valley. The check presented at the Dec. 13 City Council meeting ends an eminent domain lawsuit filed against the family to obtain the land. From left are other family members, Paul and Tim Reilly. Photo/Tammy Curtis
On Dec. 13, the City of Highland settled an imminent domain lawsuit regarding the purchase of land for the new city park, prior to the regular monthly city council meeting.

The City obtained a grant to build a city park in Hidden Valley on Lake Mirandy, but later learned it did not possess the amount of land required by the grant. Although funding was in place, the city was forced to put the park on hold until tracts of land bordering the park could be purchased from land owners.

After having the land surveyed and appraised, the city contacted the land owners with offers of fair market value for their land. The first portion of land was quickly obtained from a local land owner for the appraised value, but the attempt to purchase the other tract of land bordering the lake was sidelined when the Pete Reilly family did not accept the offer of $2,286 for their land. They felt the offer was too low and also had concerns with the location of the park off the main highway.

Jennifer Reilly, daughter of Pete Reilly, who also has Power of Attorney over her father during his incarceration in the Department of Correction, said she was never contacted about the city's attempt to purchase the land until it was in the news. During the November City Council meeting, the city presented a second offer of $2,500. Reilly said she had visited with her father and he would not take less than $3,500. The Council refused that amount and, under the advice of City Attorney Jon Abele, filed an eminent domain lawsuit seeking the land for the park at the fair market value.

After the suit was filed, the family went back to speak to Mr. Reilly about a price that would be agreeable to the city and the family.

Jennifer Reilly and other members of the family attended a Dec. 13 meeting to negotiate with council. The family also asked for the right to purchase the land back in the event it does not become, or ceases to be, a city park. The Reilly's then agreed to sell their land for a new offer of $3,000. Council passed a resolution approving the purchase and giving the family re-purchase rights. The city can now move forward with the city park, which will be located on the banks of Lake Mirandy. It will have a play ground area, basketball court, picnic area and grill for families to enjoy.

Jennifer Reilly addressed the council saying, "I am personally taken back at the way my city has presented itself to my family and community. I have lived here in Highland my whole life and am proud to call it my home. We live in a time where we want to trust those who take care of us, but actions really speak louder than words. This is the first time I am truly ashamed of the decisions of those who are supposed to look after the citizens. A park is a good thing for adults and their children, but I believe you do not have to run over people in order to get it. I feel that this decision will affect the opinions of those citizen's who vote within our community, and that I hope and pray no one within our community will ever have to endure this. It has been stressful, hurtful and, quite frankly, embarrassing that our city would treat people this way. But again I want to thank those who did not agree with eminent domain. "

Mayor Richard Smith then presented the Reilly family with a check for $3,000. He took an opportunity to address Reilly's statement. The mayor said, "Things don't always work out the way government thinks they should, or for citizens. If there was any offense by anyone, including council and myself, there is an apology that should be made. For the negative part, we apologize. For the positive part it is going to play including for kids, I can't apologize." He explained Abele would file the paperwork to withdraw the imminent domain lawsuit immediately.

The Highland City Council meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. at the Highland City Hall.

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