YORK — The Old York Historical Society board of trustees has voted unanimously not to accept a deed to the land it is being offered under the terms of a recent proposed agreement between the town of York and First Parish Church.
OYHS board members were not consulted at any time during the negotiations between the town and church, said board chair Anthony Moore, even though OYHS is clearly a party in a proposed settlement released two weeks ago. Under those terms, OYHS would be offered a “fee simple deed” to land under the Remick Barn, Jefferds’ Tavern, the Old School House and a parking lot beyond — all on Lindsay Road.
That property has long been assumed to be owned by the church, and OYHS currently leases the property from the church for $1 a year, said Moore. OYHS owns the buildings on top of it. The OYHS board strongly feels that, based on research conducted by Executive Director Joel Lefever, the town actually owns that land, he said.
“We believe all the land belongs to the townspeople of York, and they would be giving something up by deeding it to a private organization,” said Moore. Moreover, he said, the settlement proposal does not make clear whether the town or the church is the entity that would deed the land to OYHS.
“We can’t take it until we know who is giving it,” he said. “The church hasn’t offered that land before, and if the town owns the land, we would rather lease it than own it.”
Selectman Robert Palmer, who with fellow board member Liz Blanchard negotiated the proposal for the town, said on Tuesday morning that the proposed settlement is expected to be modified to make clear that the town will own that land. This is in direct response to the OYHS board vote.
Palmer said recently that OYHS was not at the table during negotiations because it was not a direct party. “That makes sense,” said Moore. “But if they’d asked us if we wanted the land, we would have said no thank you. I think it’s been a bit of a surprise to everyone that we didn’t say, yes please.”
Blanchard agrees that Old York “should have been at least consulted. It was a mistake on our part not to do that. They make a good point.”
The OYHS board raises a number of questions that it would also like answered. For instance, as part of the agreement, the town will receive a lease for the land under the Old Gaol, a town building but managed by Old York. Why, OYHS asks, will ownership revert to the church if the town no longer needs it?
The board is also concerned that the church will continue to own some 80 acres abutting First Parish Cemetery as well as town owned land behind Coventry Hall and Coastal Ridge Elementary School. In this, they are not alone. A number of residents commenting in online forums have expressed similar concerns.