(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.