U in dispute over land sale

Devon Sykes

Union Pacific Railroad is taking its land value dispute against the University to the Hennepin County District Court of Appeals.

The University is using eminent domain, a legal provision that allows public agencies to force landowners to sell property at a price set by a panel of court-appointed commissioners. The University is buying two parcels of land from the railroad, but the railroad doesn’t agree with the price the commissioners set.

Now the company is going to court to ask for more money. The hearing is set for Oct. 17.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said the railroad “will likely not agree to settle the case.”

“We obtained a commissioners’ determination of what the land was worth,” Rotenberg said. “Union Pacific is insisting on many times that amount in order to settle the case.”

The panel of commissioners initially set the value of the land at $293,700, Rotenberg said. He said the railroad company demanded more than $1 million for the property.

“When we tried to mediate the dispute, they actually demanded more money,” Rotenberg said. “At the trial we are going to present evidence that the evaluation established by the commissioners is the upper ceiling of what’s reasonable for the property.”

Mark Davis, regional public relations director for Union Pacific, said, “This would be a case where we would have to try to work with the University to resolve the dispute.”

Russell Pannier, a law professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said use of eminent domain involves taking a piece of land by purchase or condemnation.

He said a public institution has to prove that possession of a parcel of land would be a public good before it could enact eminent domain.

“But this could be just proving that condemning the land and using it will raise tax revenue,” he said.

Pannier said the particulars of eminent domain vary across the country.

The University has been using the Union Pacific land for snow storage since November 1998, according to a petition the University filed to acquire the property.

The University now wants to use that land, in addition to two parcels owned by McLaughlin Gormley King Company and Lorraine Larson, as part of its sports fields and facilities district plan.

Under this plan, the University intends to expand sports and recreational facilities on the East Bank, citing the students’ need for greater recreational sports, leisure time and intercollegiate athletic fields and facilities.

The University plans to create a “University park” in the land bordered by Oak Street, 15th Avenue, Fifth Street and Eighth Street.

Rotenberg said the University paid the $1.35 million award set by commissioners on the McLaughlin Gormley King property and settled with Lorraine Larson for $800,000.

Sue Weinberg, University director of real estate, said the University already has the title to the railroad company’s land. She said building in the University park area will probably commence with tennis courts being built near the tennis center.