Town needs policy for abandonments
The Bath Town Council is onto something with their latest thoughts about how to properly abandon unused town streets.
Last month, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church asked the council to give up the part of Liberty Street that adjoins the church property and connects with Mercer Street. While that section of the street was mapped out long ago, it has not really been built or used, except for a walkway. Church members have cut the grass and maintained the hillside for years. Now, with the expansion of the church building, they are interested in actually owning the plot.
This is not the first time that an adjoining property owner has been deeded an unused right of way. The Country Inn was the beneficiary of western Market Street in the 1970s.
While some feel the town should never give up property, government does get rid of unneeded property all the time. And, though some may feel otherwise, it's unlikely that Liberty Street will ever be open at the Mercer Street intersection, given the slope and the other streets available.
As the council neared a vote on whether to give up the strip of land, a new question arose. What would the church use the property for? This led to the idea that council might require that the lot be maintained as green space and not be built upon.
Usually when government gives up property, it is sold to the highest bidder, who can then do what he will with it. But selling a small part of Liberty Street to a third party could turn out to be a nuisance to others. The lot may be big enough to build something on.
But when government gives land at no cost to a church, a real First Amendment question arises if the church turns around and uses the property for religious purposes. Members of other churches – any citizen, in fact – would certainly have the right to protest.
The same would hold true of any commercial use. If the town gave property to a business which, in turn, used it to make money, the council would be open to criticism for showing favoritism to one business over another. Government is supposed to be neutral on most such questions.
All that said, we tend to agree with those who think the town shouldn't give away rights of way. But if they do, they should require that the lot be maintained as green space. This is a good policy for any street abandoned in the future, as well.