After being vilified as a ruthless developer, bent on buying and paving a portion of one of Palestine's parks, a local businesswoman says the plan was the city's idea.
“I originally asked the city if I could purchase a five-foot strip, so I can take the fence down that separates the park and my property,” Sloan Shuffler, who is building a multi-family residence adjacent to the park, told the Herald-Press Friday. “It was the city that suggested I buy more of the land.”
Shuffler, a local CPA, said Development Services Director Mark Miears told her the city had problems with the pavilion in Major General John F. Phillips Park. He then suggested she purchase more land – roughly 31 square feet – to help rid the city of the pavilion.
The pavilion, Shuffler was told, did not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
“I don't need it,” Shuffler said. “It would cost me a lot more money in construction and taxes. I'd also have to build a new fence. I thought I was just doing my part for the city. It's interesting how I've become the bad guy.”
Calls from the Herald-Press to Miears and City Manager Leslie Cloer were not returned.
The petition to sell a portion of the park came before the Parks Advisory Board Oct. 1, where members unanimously voted no.
“Very few of the city's residents are even aware this is an issue,” parks board member Diane Davis told the Herald-Press. “But those who do know are upset.”
City Council member Larissa Loveless said she has no knowledge of any discussion between Miears and Shuffler. However, the park, which sits in her district, is in no danger from her.
“For us to consider doing this to a park that means so much to so many people is unfathomable,” she said. “If this were to come before council, I would fight it to my last breath.”
The park is named for African-American Anderson County resident John F. Phillips. A U.S. Air Force veteran with 27 years of service, Phillips served as an aviator, commander of McClellen Air Force Base in California, and deputy under the Secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration.
Its small size doesn't reflect its importance, Vernon Denmon, veterans service officer for Anderson County, told the Herald-Press.
“This isn't an African-American park, and it's not a veteran's park,” Denmon said. “This park is for everyone. It is also a reminder that the freedoms we all enjoy aren't free.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I was spit on when I got off the plane. To have someone try and take part of this park is like being spit in the face all over again.”
The park sits between Palestine's Farmer's Market and the Veterans Park.
“The city council has not yet voted on the issue,” Davis said. “But it was brought before the parks board, who unanimously voted no. It never should have gotten that far, though.”
Mayor Steve Presley said the issue, to his knowledge, has not been placed on the council's agenda. Were it to come to a vote, however, his answer would be no.
“We have plenty of gray in the city already,” Presley told the Herald-Press. “We need more green. There's a parking lot across the street that building could use.
“Besides, even if the council votes yes, by law there would have to be a public vote on the matter, because it's a city park.”
Presley said he is unaware of any talks between Miears and Shuffler.
District 2 Councilman Mitchell Jordan told the Herald-Press the issue is about respect.
“This park is named for a living general,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for anyone who served in the military. Becoming a general is a rare thing. Considering doing this to his park is disrespectful; it shouldn't be done.”
Retired General Phillips will be grand-marshall of this year's Veteran's Parade, Nov. 9. He is expected to address the matter of the park sale in a public speech at the event.
Loveless said the issue most likely died with the parks board vote.
“I think it's over,” she said. “The advisory board said no, and, to my knowledge, no one on the council has made it an agenda item. If it ever is, you can be sure I would vote no.”
Attempts by the Herald-Press to contact Maj. General Phillips were unsuccessful.