As Edina’s new city manager back in 2010, Scott Neal’s very first City Council meeting left him wondering “what I was walking into.”
The chamber was packed, and many of those attending were frosted. Under debate was a proposal to run a major new regional trail right through what many had always assumed to be strictly their own backyards.
Six years later, after what one top parks official calls a “wild ride,” the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail (see an interactive map) is on its way after a series of involuntary land transactions using the government’s eminent domain power.
Jonathan Vlaming, associate superintendent of the Three Rivers Park District, which is overseeing the project, said he was not only impressed with the steadfastness of the City Council in pressing for the most beautiful option vs. lanes along roadways, but also with “a strong movement of Edina residents wanting more trails in their community.”
The public hearing, he said, was evenly balanced.
“Is the city of Edina going to have the path stop at its borders, thus making us an island?” asked 68-year resident Steve Sando in one of hundreds of e-mails and letters submitted.
The portion of the trail in east Edina is to be done by 2017. The west portion, out for bid shortly, should be finished by 2018 thanks in part to federal grants that have covered half the $25 million cost.
A striking new land bridge spanning Hwy. 100 north of Interstate 494 is to be joined soon by another swooping over Crosstown Hwy. 62, inviting bikers and hikers to experience little-known but gorgeous Nine Mile Creek as it laces together Edina parks.
Three landowners along the route have pushed hard enough in negotiations to enter the land of “quick take,” the government’s right to seize control of their property so that construction can proceed pending a battle over just compensation.
Private ownership of waterfronts is a big difference between the central cities and suburbs. Edina officials decades back “who could have platted property lines to the center of Nine Mile Creek, didn’t do so,” Vlaming said.
“They created a 200- to 300-foot-wide swath of public property save for one little pinch point thrown in by a developer at the time to preclude a trail. The city did a workaround to solve that.”
Even as major new infrastructure was being installed this spring, officials were working to nail down a deal to acquire land in the path of the trail, in the Pentagon Park office complex area.
A property owner squeezed tight for parking turned out to want land more than cash, Neal told council members in June.
“A modest amount of land [for 13 parking bays] saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cost of purchasing land rights,” he said.
At the risk of “sounding like Donald Trump,” Vlaming said last week, “the result will be amazing: People will enjoy Lake Edina, the creek; they’ll get safely across two freeways and connect from a regional trail hub in Hopkins to a north-south trail in Richfield and Bloomington and ultimately all the way to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge,” south of the Mall of America.
Within Edina, the decision to decommission a city golf course means that users “will meander through a park, rather than skirt around the golf course and be sandwiched between that and offices,” Vlaming said.