Portion of city park could be sold to landowner

People walk along an isolated area of parkland in the 500 block of Front Street Tuesday afternoon. The city is considering a proposal to auction a small part of the property. (Photo by Michael Kelly)

A small piece of property has brought forward a discussion about the value of parks and uncovered some information on the city’s historic intentions for riverfront land north of downtown.

A parcel of land only 25 feet wide, just south of 507 Front St. will be the subject of legislation to receive a second reading Thursday night at the Marietta City Council meeting. It would ultimately provide approval for the city to sell the land, currently part of a small section of park, by auction, an idea initially proposed by the owner of the adjacent property at a council meeting last week.

Joseph Wesel II, who owns 507 Front St., proposed it as a way of relieving a small part of the city’s burden of maintaining parks, and said he intended to keep it as a green space or garden. Although Wesel would like to join it to the property he already owns, the city will need to offer it at auction if it decided to sell.

Some residents object to the idea on principal, including Anthony Touschner, who lives on Seventh Street, and Rebecca Phillips, who in a statement sent to The Marietta Times noted Marietta’s “long history of preserving land for public use,” offering examples such as Muskingum Park, Buckeye Park and the River Trail.

“Given the history and popularity of our public lands, City Council’s proposed ordinance to sell a city-owned parcel at 505 Front St. is a bad idea,’ she said.

City attorney Paul Bertram III researched the history of the city’s ownership of the plot and uncovered a decades-old effort to acquire a continuous string of property along the Muskingum River which ultimately failed.

In the 1960s and 1970s, he said, housing along that section of Front Street was deteriorating.

“Lots of those properties were what today we would consider blighted,” he said. “The view at the time was that as the city got money it would buy those properties and eventually extend Muskingum Park from the Putnam Bridge to the Washington Bridge. As houses became available, the city would purchase them and raze them.”

What interfered with that plan, Bertram said, was that riverfront property became fashionable.

“There was a change in attitudes, and people started buying those houses and fixing them up,” he said. “It became boutique-ish to have river property.”

“The intent was to extend the park, but that never happened because the public began thinking it was cool to live along the river,” he said.

The 500 block Front Street now has a shady grove of trees, with a small bicycle path cut-out that briefly veers away from the sidewalk around a large planter. Housing stands to the north and south, and the main swath of Muskingum Park is several residential lots away.

The small piece of property on the north side of the little haven being considered for sale was never actually designated as a park, Bertram said. It’s about 25-feet wide, covers .087 acres and has no remarkable features other than a lot of shade.

It’s been appraised at about $30,000, and city council member Cindy Oxender said she hopes to set that as the minimum bid if the necessary number of council members agree to auction the lot, a position she favors.

“It’s not being well-utilized or well-maintained, and we have other parks that are extremely well-utilized but not getting the attention they deserve,” she said. “I just wish we had a lot more money to maintain parks, but if a park isn’t being utilized while others are, we’re simply maintaining unutilized land.”

In addition to realizing some money from the sale of the land, Oxender said, as privately owned property the land would be returned to the tax roll and generate annual income for the city.