At Lyn Ary Park, a Garden is the Focus of a Legal Battle Between Landowners and the City
Land parcel at the center of a decades-long dispute
ANCHORAGE - A small secluded community garden on the western edge of Lyn Ary Park is at the center of a land dispute that dates back to the 1964 earthquake.
The land the garden was built on has been maintained by the Municipality of Anchorage as part of the park for years. But before that, the land wasn't able to be used at all... because it was in ruins after the infamous quake.
Now, after nearly fifty years of uncertain ownership, both the city and a group of private landowners are claiming the land as their own.
“The question is… where is the end of the property?”
Mike Stehle is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in their suit against the city. He said the question of where the property ends is important, because the property lines were drawn up when the land was first sold back in the 1950s. The land originally was a bluff, and the property lines went all the way to the water’s edge.
Then the 1964 earthquake happened. That flattened the bluff, sent the water’s edge further out into Knik Arm, and changed the shape of the land in question. And those changes are why Stehle’s clients believe the land is theirs.
The city’s claim to the land has its roots in the Coastal Trail. As the city acquired the land needed to complete that portion of the trail, it came into conflict with the now-defunct Union Bank. After years of legal back and forth, the municipality purchased a “quitclaim” deed from the bank in 1996, and proceeded to build the trail and maintain the property.
“We have a deed, and they don't; we own it, they don't; we're the official owners of the property and they're trying to take it,” said Robert Owens, an assistant municipal attorney working the case. In addition to the city’s claim, Owens said they’ve been maintaing the land with help from the community for years.
“We've continued to own it, and manage it as parkland… [and] it's been the site of a community park in a lot of different ways, and we want to protect it. We wanna keep it,” he said.
“The real time and resources that have gone in to this parcel is coming from the neighbors and the community that live around it. They're the volunteers, they're the people who have worked hard and created what’s there today, and those are the people and their effeorts that we're trying to respect and protect.”
In court documents filed by Stehle, the attorney notes that “a substantial question exists as to whether the bank actually owned the property” at the time it was sold to the city, and that “both the bank and the municipality were aware” that the landowners believed “they were the true owners of the property.”
The land is currently zoned for residential use. No matter how the story ends, it won't affect the coastal trail. But for runners along the coastal trail, and members of the community that support the garden, the decades long fight will be closely watched when its decided in court this fall.