No one’s eager to spend $250K on the path itself, either, so outside funding options will be considered
As much as city officials and city council members would like to see a bike/walking path along Fairfax Avenue that connects south end paths with the path along East Robert Street, there appears to be little if no interest in meeting Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad's $60,000 asking price to buy the land necessary to make the path happen.
"I don't know if I can recommend spending this kind of money on this property at this point," Interim City Administrator Pat Kelly told council members at a Ways & Means Committee meeting this week. "I'm getting the impression we're not really interested in writing a check out of one of our funds for this."
The city over the years has expressed varying levels of interest in acquiring the land. So in 2007 BNSF had it appraised as industrial property, and that's where the $60,000 asking price originated, Kelly explained. The city's Trails Committee a few months ago thought it would be worth it to look into the matter again and, Kelly said, BNSF drew up a purchase agreement that contains the same $60,000 price. The railroad is not interested in negotiating, nor is it interested in any type of land transfer that would be beneficial for tax purposes, he said. "I kind of hoped they might be interested in something like that, especially after they pulled the tracks out of there," Kelly added.
There is money potentially available to buy the land. The city's Municipal Land and Buildings Fund has a healthy bottom line, and the city still has $100,000 in a BNSF settlement fund dating back to when the railroad bridge on 8th Street was removed and not replaced.
But city officials simply don't think the land is worth $60,000. "It was appraised like it was prime industrial land," Kelly said of the 30-foot wide strip of land that extends around three-quarters of a mile.
"But it's not buildable; there's nothing you can do with it," added At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye.
The city could pursue a condemnation of the property based on a lack of public use, Kelly said, but the process is not cheap, he explained, and it could end up eventually costing the city more than $60,000 to make it happen.
There's no rush to do something, so the city is going to keep looking at its options. Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates engineer Rich Clauson spoke to a WSN grant-writer, who said money from the state Legacy Fund for projects like trails could be sought in the next funding period in 2014. Money wouldn't go toward a purchase price, but could help finance a project if the city did somehow acquire the needed land.
The purchase price is dwarfed by the cost of extending a path along the road, which is in the $250,000 range, Kelly said.
But the good news is that the city is in a good position to pursue grant funds because the path project has already been designed. Previously, the city was awarded a $75,000 state grant to put toward the project but had to turn it down because the project cost was too high.
"We have a project in the can, so to speak, that's ready to go," Kelly said. "I would think that would help secure grant dollars."
The Northwest Regional Development Commission is a another potential partner, Clauson said, which has a grand vision of trails from Crookston to Mentor and the lakes area. "But that might be more regional and not specific to a community," he said.
Since the land is along a Polk County road, Clauson added, maybe the county could help out with some funding. Ward 5 Council Member Dale Stainbrook downplayed that possibility, saying he mentioned it to a couple county commissioners a couple years ago.
"They're kind of backing away from it," he said. "I think they figure if they do it for Crookston, they'll have to do it with other communities."
Kelly figures writing a grant would cost around a thousand dollars, which would be money especially well spent if it brings in a lot more money. "We have a good loop going," he said, noting a planned widening of the sidewalk on South Main in five years.
The current paths are well utilized, too, Mayor Dave Genereux added. "But on the other hand, we don't want to pay too much for land that's not worth that much," he added.