An attorney warned the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday night that authorizing city staff to try buying two properties from owners who don't want to sell for the Pierce Butler Route extension would result in a lawsuit.

Council members voted to hold off on the decision for a couple of months.

The council is considering whether to allow Public Works to spend $5 million to buy a Frogtown grocery store and bazaar and a nearby auto repair business needed for an extension that would connect the Midway to the East Side. There's no definite project timeline yet, and condemnation also is an option.

"This is a very ill-conceived project," said Leland Frankman, who is representing Gennadiy Yermolenko, owner of the Capitol Car Co., 388 Como Av. Plus, Frankman added, $5 million is not enough for both properties.

The project is a two-mile extension of Pierce Butler from Grotto Street to Interstate 35E. It would be a four-lane road with a shoulder for bicycles and a separate trail. The purpose is to provide a better channel for traffic, much of it heavy trucks.

The neighborhood has in the past said that connecting Pierce Butler to the interstate is a priority, but no route was ever set in stone.

The proposal has created tension because the property owners have invested millions of dollars in their businesses and don't want to leave. The city also acknowledged that it hasn't followed its normal process for acquiring land.

Council Member Melvin Carter III, who supports extending the road, moved to continue the hearing until July 1 to give more time for the community and city engineers to explore options.

At least three community meetings will be held between now and then, said Tait Danielson Castillo, executive director of the District 7 Planning Council.

Depending on when other funding is approved, construction on the first phase of the project could start in 2011 and on the second phase in 2012.

"The city cannot simply 'stockpile' properties while it looks for funding and while it considers various options," Frankman wrote in a letter to council members.

City officials have said it would make sense to acquire the properties now before the owners make any more improvements. The project has languished over the years, but the city says it's now a priority.

After the hearing, Daisy Haung, who owns Super Foods and Golden Globe mall, said she appreciated that Carter pushed for more time to look at alternatives.

In addition to the grocery store, her building houses an indoor bazaar where 55 families have small stalls.

"It's not just one family in one business," Haung said.

Super Foods, at 630 Pierce Butler Route, has a 2009 taxable value of about $2.2 million and estimated tax bill of about $72,000, according to Ramsey County records. Capitol Car Co., has a 2009 taxable market value of $1.4 million and estimated taxes of $38,000.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148