park milford eminent domain

Milford will continue with park at center of eminent domain case

Katie KazimirGovernment, Headlines

eminent domain

This land is destined to become a new park in Milford’s Ward 1 that’s expected to be mostly sports playing fields. Photo by Katie Kazimir

Milford plans to refine its comprehensive plan and continue to build the park at the center of this month’s controversial eminent domain case, the city manager said Friday. 

Mark Whitfield said he’s neither shocked nor surprised by the decision this week to terminate the eminent domain action on Annette Billings’ land. 

“I’m here to facilitate what they ask me to do. I’m here to do their work,” he said.

“Ideally we want to connect hiking and biking trails,” said Council member Michael Boyle of Ward 1, which is where the park will be. “I don’t know how we will figure it out right now. There’s no other plan.”

Wednesday night’s vote came during a special session of the City Council after weeks of dealing with upset residents enraged by the idea that the city would take private property.

The city even released a long statement Wednesday before the council meeting detailing how the case came to be. It pointed that that property it wanted was wetlands in a family trust, had been on the tax books as having no value and that no tax had been paid on the property.

The statement said the city had tried to negotiate with Billings, but she did not respond to those efforts or show up for meetings.

The city ‘s Feb. 15 court response to its suit over the land also accused Billings of leading a campaign that had led to city council members and city workers being verbally attacked and disparaged. The city cited the erection of a billboard calling the mayor and council thieves.

The 8.08 acre parcel outside Milford, considered to be in Sussex County just outside Milford city limits, would have been used for a bike path.

The city wanted the parcel to better access the 19 acres it bought from Billings’ brother for more than $500,000. The city planned to pay Billings $20,000 for her land, which is in a family trust.

The path would have connected the town and nearby housing developments to a proposed park on South Rehoboth Boulevard. 

Without the path, the park potentially would have only one access point for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians to share.

Whitfield said he doesn’t think the lack of a bike path will affect usage.

He pointed out that most people drive to Silicato Park near the Boys & Girls Club, and pedestrians will still have a walkway on South Rehoboth Boulevard.

No park in Ward 1

Boyle said there are a limited number of parks in Milford and this park would be the first in Ward 1, which he represents.

The park, which doesn’t yet have a name, is still in the planning stages, and will be primarily playing fields, he said.

“There is no timeline for the park,” Boyle said. “This is long range.”

He and fellow Ward 1 Council member Daniel Marabello were the only two members of the council Wednesday to not vote in favor of terminating the eminent domain action on Billings’ land.

“We have no objection, but slightly different views since it is in our ward,” Boyle said.

He reported mixed opinions about the case from his ward’s residents, but Boyle said he and Marabello had no plans to stop or try to interrupt the council’s decision.

“We’re all fine with it,” Boyle said. “What happened, happened.”

On Wednesday night, Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said that the council had voted for eminent domain to extend its parks, based on the city’s comprehensive plan, to enhance community space.

“I am dedicated to finding the solutions that uphold the value of our community,” Wilson said that night.

Milford Mayor Archie Campbell declined to comment on what will happen with the park.

“I can’t talk to you,”  Campbell said, after he confirmed the name of Milford Live’s CEO Bryan Shupe during a phone call request for comment.

Several people on Facebook said that Campbell had told them Wednesday night that there would never be another eminent domain case as long as he was mayor.

An earlier Milford Live story said the council planned to never use eminent domain again. That was incorrect. 

The vote to stop the eminent domain case against Billings was only a vote in that case.

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