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|Paynesville Press - September 4, 2002|
Court grants property for airport to city
The city of Paynesville was granted title to the property needed to build a new airport by Judge Elizabeth Hayden following a hearing in a condemnation proceeding in Stearns County District Court on Thursday, Aug. 29.|
At the conclusion of the 75-minute hearing, Judge Hayden granted the city's petition for condemnation, approved the immediate transfer of title to the city, and appointed four commissioners, with knowledge of real estate, to determine the price for the property at a later date.
The city has had the property appraised at a value of $1,600 per acre, a price that several landowners have contested as too low. The commissioners appointed will ultimately settle the price of the land based on further testimony.
In the meantime, the city deposited a check for $332,460 with the court, an amount determined by the city's assessed value for the property. If the court ultimately decides that the property is worth more than $1,600 per acre, the city will have to pay the balance at that time.
The city is building a new airport with the help of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which is picking up over 60 percent of the expenses, with the city covering the remaining costs.
At the hearing, John Martin, a St. Paul attorney specializing in condemnation, represented the city. One of his first explanations was about how the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township had ended their joint power agreement for the airport and the subsequent release of the township from the court proceedings.
Martin called three witnesses to prove that condemnation should be granted. An aeronautics engineer from SEH, the city's engineering firm, testified about the airport layout, the improvements of the new plan in respect to the current airstrip, and the need to purchase around 185 acres of land and gain easement to another 30 acres because of the safety restrictions for the runway.
Dave Oleson, a real estate specialist from SEH, was the second witness, giving a brief recounting of his unsuccessful efforts to reach negotiated settlements with the five concerned landowners over a year, from June 2001 to July 2002.
Finally, city administrator Steve Helget testified about the official records of the city of Paynesville and the city council's authorization of the airport project and the use of public funds for the project.
Landowners Jason and Angela Mages, Dennis and Catherine Rothstein, and Andy and Beverly Winstrom were represented by attorneys at the hearing. Jason Mages and Dennis Rothstein also attended the hearing, as did fellow landowner Loren Meyer.
(Only an easement for 0.08 acres is needed from the fifth landowner, Pat and Lorie Meagher. Pat Meagher has indicated that he will grant the easement once settlements are reached with the other landowners.)
During minimal cross-examination, the attorneys for the landowners did ask several questions about the zoning for the airport and restrictions to property.
The attorneys for the landowners previously had agreed with Martin to some stipulations, including the city granting rights to the landowners to harvest any crops currently on the land. The city did require that the crops be harvested by the first of November and that the city be held harmless during the harvest.
Meyer, who did not have legal counsel at the hearing, asked the judge near the end of the hearing if he could have the same deal, and Martin agreed on behalf of the city with the same conditions.
The city had hoped to start construction of the airport this fall, but now intends to bid the project over the winter and start construction next spring.
The date for the commissioners to hear evidence and determine a fair price for the land has not been set yet, but this should be scheduled and concluded sometime this fall.
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