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Thursday, July 31, 2014 12:01 am

No man’s land

Park property lines blurry

This unpaved parking area adjacent to Foursquare Church is actually inside Bunn Park.


Kirk Jefferis has a fantastic buying opportunity for anyone interested in the tranquility inherent in owning a building adjacent to a public park.

The Foursquare Church on South 13th Street next to Bunn Park is in excellent condition, and a four-bedroom house just north of the church itself is part of the package with an asking price of just $153,000.

“It’s turnkey for a church,” said Jefferis, a commercial real estate broker who’s been retained to market the property. “If you have the right amount of parking, it’s a very good deal.”

Ah, parking. Therein lies a potential rub. The unpaved parking area just south of the church is actually within the boundaries of Bunn Park, which Jefferis acknowledges might be problematic for a bank if a potential buyer wants a mortgage. The church otherwise has no off-street parking, which is tough for a building at the very end of a dead-end street.

“I think it’s an issue,” Jefferis says. “I think it (the parking arrangement) needs to be somehow formalized with some sort of an agreement (with the Springfield Park District).”

The church isn’t alone. The park district has identified five other properties where homeowners have appropriated park property as their own. Encroachment issues apparently came to light when the buyer of a home adjacent to Lincoln Park discovered that the back and side yards of the home built in 1964 were within park boundaries.

“Her backyard is not her backyard,” says Gina Musselman, whose daughter, Whitney, nonetheless recently closed the deal for the house without a resolution from the park district. “It’s tricky. My daughter has fallen in love with the house. She loves being next to the park and the serenity of it all.”

A house next door is, perhaps, even more problematic. Somehow, part of the home constructed in 1950 lies within the borders of Lincoln Park, according to park district records. In Washington Park, a homeowner on Williams Boulevard has landscaped and gardened a publicly owned slope leading down to the main road through the park. A garden extends into Barker Park, according to the district, and a homeowner adjacent to Centennial Park has installed a swingset and children’s play area on park land behind his backyard.

How did this happen?

“You pose an interesting question, one that we’ve been contemplating on our end as we become aware of these,” says Derek Harms, executive director of the Springfield Park District.

There are at least three potential solutions. The park district could try to reclaim its land and force interlopers off, it could sell property to adjacent landowners with structures, gardens and landscaping on public property or it could establish long-term leases with landowners.

Park board member Robin Schmidt says every case is different, but in the case of properties bordering Lincoln Park involving homes, she favors either selling the property to homeowners  or entering into long-term leases. The intent of homeowners needs to be considered, she says, as does the amount of time that adjacent property owners have been using park land.

“I just find it hard to believe that people are intentionally doing it,” Schmidt said. “We certainly don’t want to be giving away. In most circumstances, it’s inadvertent.”

Jefferis says that park district officials have told him that an amicable solution is likely. He pointed out that the parking area within Bunn Park is far from the Bunn Golf Course and any other active recreation area. Sangamon County property records aren’t clear, but Jefferis says that he’s seen plans for an addition to the church that were prepared in the 1950s, so he believes that the church has been in place since at least the 1940s.

“It isn’t the Hatfields and the McCoys,” Jefferis says. “They’re not going to take up arms and not allow the church to use it.”

Harms says he believes that there may be more incursions onto park property than the half-dozen identified so far. The district, he notes, owns 2,600 acres in 35 parks.

“A lot of those parks are bordered by neighbors,” Harms says. “How many (incursions) are there? I don’t know. … We’re in the infancy stages of working through this process. The board is going to set the direction on this.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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