A judge Tuesday granted a condemnation petition sought by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for an easement over riverside property owned by Graco Minnesota Inc., a move that comes in time for officials to meet 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 two sides will argue over a fair price for the land later in front of court-appointed commissioners.

Michael Schroeder, an assistant superintendent of parks, said the action means the trails could be completed by next June, assuming favorable construction bids and weather.

The long-sought trails would represent the first major riverside recreational trails in northeast Minneapolis, matching paths built on the West Bank in 2007. Schroe­der said a contractor probably wouldn't start work until next spring.

The trails will connect Boom Island Park and NE. Marshall Street 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 Mississippi 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 Minnesota Lottery. The federal grant carries a requirement that the Park Board demonstrate it controls the land for the proposed trail by July 15.

The issue of the easement has been festering between the Park Board and Graco for much of the year. The Park Board said the company pledged to grant the easement in an old development agreement with the city. Graco was willing to give up the easement in exchange for 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 4 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 in June.

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 deal for the development portion calls for Graco and the Park Board to jointly seek vacation of 10th Avenue NE. Park officials said that the zoning of the Scherer site precludes housing there.

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