Morrisville residents fight to keep Williamson Park
In a lawsuit filed in Bucks County Orphan Court, residents say the borough has a legal obligation to keep the park for public use and that developing it would violate Pennsylvania’s Dedicated Properties and Data Act .
This law states that public parks cannot be sold unless they are no longer convenient to use or the community is unable to use them, according to team lawyer Samuel Stretton. A hearing is scheduled for February 1.
In an interview, Stretton said the borough recently partnered with the Bucks County Redevelopment Authority to prove the park was ‘scrambled’ or unusable, a strategy that would help the GDR claim the park for the project. He said the GDR took photos of the land surrounding the park, private properties outside the park boundaries, to claim the park was run down.
âThere is no proof of this at all. It’s not rotten. It’s a wonderful park, and it’s just a ride, âsaid Stretton. âWe intend to stop him, and they have no basis to do so. If they want to play this game, then I think they’re going to be embarrassed in court.
In warmer weather, said Rice, Morrisville gathers at Williamson Park. The borough offers concerts, free library events for children and Easter egg hunts. People picnic, fly kites, watch migrating birds, and enjoy scenic views along the Delaware River (Trenton is on the other side). When it snows, children go sledding there.
The park’s baseball fields were home to the 1955 Little League World Series champions. Some of them still live in cities.
âIf they did that it would change the soul of Morrisville,â said resident Debby Colgan. âIt would change our character. We want to be an authentic city. We want to express who we are.
âWhat they are planning is a fake downtown area, and that will erase the history of Morrisville and the people of Morrisville,â Colgan said. âIt is not representative of this community.
Part of the park’s history designates it for public use. In 1885, Edna Vansant and Andrew K. Rowan, a descendant of Joseph Bonaparte, The separated brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, gave part of the land in a trusted three churches in Trenton.
In 1938, Henry Williamson donated to the Borough of Morrisville to purchase the land. After the donation, Morrisville signed a lease with the three churches of Trenton. The plots purchased with funds from Williamson’s will and the church grounds became Williamson Park. In 1939 Morrisville entered into a 99-year agreement to keep the properties together under the name Williamson Park.
Not just a place to play
Last Friday was a snowy day in Morrisville and surrounding towns. In the afternoon, children and parents sledged in Williamson Park.
Evie Hans, 14, was with a group of friends from Yardley. She said Morrisville hill was more beautiful than her town hill.
âThey should keep it,â Hans said. âIt’s such a unique place for Morrisville because there isn’t a lot for the kids to do here.â
But some in the Morrisville community, like Brian Merrill, believe the proposed development is slow in coming.
âIt’s taking the area that’s underutilized and revitalizing it,â Merrill said.
Colgan is concerned about the long term environmental impact to lose the park.
âThe park, whether you use it or not, works for you. It has value for everyone here, âshe said.
Williamson Park is prone to flooding. In some of the more notable floods, in 1955, 2005 and 2006, the water rose at least three feet there.
Rice, now retired, worked as a hydrologist for the US Geological Survey and the New Jersey Water Science Center. He described the park as a bowl.
âThere’s no natural outlet for it all, so it’s filling up,â Rice said. “For the sole reason of the flood, [the development] has no sense. I do not understand.
The increased pavement the development would bring would increase flood runoff and “raise that water level by several feet,” Rice said, which could lead to increased flooding for residential neighbors in the park.
Nancy Sherlock, member of the Morrisville borough council, represents the park district.
âPeople have spoken,â said Sherlock, who surveyed his parish and found that an overwhelming majority was against development.
Some of the people supporting him believe development would help lower taxes, she said.
âWhat they don’t understand isâ¦ it doesn’t. It might put a temporary brake on them if it ever came to fruition, but it won’t be a godsend, âSherlock said. “It won’t be enough and it won’t be sustainable.”
She said the city is in desperate need of a school district merger, not development on the park.