Chipley- The dispute over park land in Vernon went back to court Tuesday for the third time. Vernon city officials and property owner, Hal Kirk have each been claiming they own the land known as Wayside Park on Holmes Creek.
Kirk has owned a canoe rental business in the area for a few years. He claimed the park had become rundown so he put up a privacy fence to block the view. But, city officials said his fence was keeping people from enjoying the park.
District Judge Christopher Patterson had already placed an injunction on Kirk, prohibiting him from blocking access to Wayside Park. Tuesday's hearing was to determine if Kirk had violated that injunction.
In the early minutes of the half hour hearing, Vernon City Attorney Kerry Adkison called his only witness, Vernon City Council member, Byron Biddle to the stand.
Adkison asked Biddle if he had "observed individuals attempting to use the park since the fence had gone up" and Biddle replied he had not.
According to Judge Patterson, that statement was what kept Kirk in the clear against the alleged violations.
"I can't find by competent evidence based upon Mr. Biddle's testimony, he has not seen anyone have restricted enjoyment of that park" Judge Patterson said. "He's not seen it. And that- that alone does not allow me to hold Mr. Kirk in contempt of court."
But that still didn't settle the issue. In order to properly determine who owns the land, Kirk would have to file a lawsuit against the city of Vernon. It's an option Kirk said he and his lawyer were looking into.
The land has been used as a park for at least 40 years. The city built the boat ramp, and contended it was illegal for anyone to own property maintained by city funds.
But, Kirk showed News Channel 7 a survey he said proved he owned the land. Kirk said he also wanted to know why he was paying property taxes on the land, if he wasn't the owner.
Judge Patterson said he couldn't rule on the ownership issue, because he hadn't been asked to do so.
"The bottom line is, this court- now three times, has asked Mr. Kirk to file a lawsuit so that this court can make a declaratory judgment based upon the law and the facts presented" Judge Patterson said.
Kirk told us he felt confident the two sides could reach an agreement. "I think it's going down the right road now and with an attorney behind me i think i can get it straightened out" Kirk said.
Unless Kirk filed a lawsuit challenging the city's ownership, Judge Patterson said he would not schedule another hearing.