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Judge grants condemnation for Graco easement

(A planned East Bank trail would run from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, middle of photo, on the river side of the large Graco factory. and connect to NE Marshall St. near the BN Bridge in the left foreground.) 

A judge uesday granted a condemnation petition sought by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for an easement over riverside property owned by Graco Minnesota Inc. in time for a federal grant deadline.

That action by Hennepin County District Judge John McShane means that development of a set of riverside pedestrian and bike paths can go ahead.  An attorney representing Graco said the firm isn’t contesting the petition, which establishes the Park Board’s public purpose in seeking the easement. The price of that easement will be argued later before court-appointed commissioners.

Michael Schroeder, an assistant superintendent of parks, said the action means the trails could be installed by next June, assuming favorable construction bids and weather.  The long-awaited trails would represent the first major riverside recreational trails in northeast Minneapolis, matching a set built on the West Bank in 2007. Schroeder said a contractor likely wouldn’t start work until next spring.

The trails will connect Boom Island Park and NE Marshall St. by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail bridge. They will serve yet-to-be-developed Scherer Park, run on a narrow strip of land between a Graco factory and the river, and proceed through Sheridan Memorial Park by the former Grain Belt complex.

The key funding for the one-mile $1.6 million project comes from a $1 million federal grant, with the remainder coming from $600,000 in metro money financed by the state lottery. The federal grant carries a requirement that the Park Board demonstrate it controls the land over which the trail will pass by July 15.

The issue of the easement has been festering between the Park Board and Graco for much of this year. The Park Board said the company pledged to grant it in a long-ago development agreement with the city. Graco sought to tie granting the easement to the Park Board granting it the right to develop a new building on a portion of the undeveloped Scherer Park site.

The Park Board has planned for private development on four acres of that site, with leased payments covering part of park operating costs. It will decide Wednesday night whether to grant exclusive development rights to Graco without a public solicitation of other development proposals.

The Park Board said its appraisal puts the easement value at $622,300, but Graco contends that the value is much higher, an issue that will be settled by the court-appointed land commissioners.  The Park Board could have obtained the easement without charge had it agreed to two Graco requirements, but it balked over that earlier this month.

Those requirements were that the Park Board support city approval of vacating a street that runs between the Scherer site and Graco’s factory, and that it pledge not to allow residential development on the portion of the park slated for private development.

A staff-recommended proposal to negotiate a development deal with Graco for the development portion calls for Graco and the Park Board to jointly seek vacation of 10th Av. NE.  Park officials said that the medium industrial zoning of the Scherer precludes housing there.

McNamara says he's filing ethics complaint against park lobbyist

State Rep. Denny McNamara announced Tuesday he's bringing an ethics charge against a Minneapolis park lobbyist after a House ethics panel declined to find probable cause to proceed with a complaint against him.

The Hastings Republican said he was bringing the complaint against Maryann Campo, one of several lobbyists on contract at the state Capitol for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.  He announced his decision after the committee acted on a complaint brought against him earlier this month by fellow Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis. It voted 2-1 against finding probable cause to investigate the charge by Kahn that his behavior violated House rules.

McNamara called Kahn's complaint frivolous. “Throughout this process I have sought to highlight that votes cast by members of the legislature, whether Republican or Democrat, should never be held against their family members. As I made very clear, my integrity is not for sale and I’m glad today that my name has been cleared.”

He said servers had made at least three attempts to serve Campo with the complaint, whose contents he said he could not disclose. But McNamara on June 8 responded to the Kahn complaint by accusing Campo of making a threat involving the Park Board cutting off business with his son's tree-supply business.

He announced the complaint after another legislator testified that she'd been told by Campo that, "I don't know why we would buy trees from his son's business anymore." That legislator, St. Paul DFLer Alice Hausman, testified on McNamara's behalf.

The Park Board has bought trees from the Hastings area firm Hoffman & McNamara for years as one of multiple suppliers. Hoffman testified that he and a partner and their wives sold the firm to Hoffman's son Mike in 2004, and that he received the final payment in 2011. He said the Hoffman and McNamara name remains on a separate real estate business that he retains an interest in.

Kahn accused McNamara of shouting accusations against her and another Park Board lobbyist, Brian Rice, in a mid-May meeting in his office.  McNamara has said he thought that the threat had been made by Rice but learned later it came from Campo.  She has denied making such a statement.

Kahn alleged that McNamara threatened to expose the threats unless they agreed to a proposal that changed the distribution of metro money previously flowing exclusively to a regional park in north Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center. But McNamara said that was a twisting of statements that had threatened his son's business.

Kahn testified that McNamara "screamed at us to get out of his office and slammed the door," adding "I have never felt so threatened and domineered by a fellow legislator."

But McNamara testified that his ire was directed mostly at Rice, not Kahn, after they asked him about his former company's last name being on the door of its trucks. Another Republican legislator, Dennis Smith of Maple Grove, who also attended the meeting, backed up that account.

Another legislator, John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, testified for Kahn that he heard words "screamed" and people told to "get out" but was told by Kahn who had said them.

"She was scared," he said of Kahn. Persell said that when he's been involved in domestic violence situations, "A women gets a certain look in her eyes, and I reckon a man does too." McNamara apologized to Kahn after she filed her complaint.

McNamara's attorney, Reid LeBeau, sought to undermine the suggestion that McNamara was chasing sales for his son's firm.  He noted that the legislation to change the money flow to the regional park was introduced long before the meeting. Hausman eventually became the chief sponsor, and McNamara included it in an omnibus bill he crafted.

Eventually, a legislated compromise allowed the Park Board to collect the money for three more years and then it will be distributed more equally among metro park agencies. 

Ethics Committee Chair Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, and Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, voted against a probable cause finding. DFLer Ray Dehn of Minneapolis voted for it, and Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, declined to vote.