City considers condemnation for trail easements after negotiations stall

SWARTZ CREEK — In the continuing effort to extend the Genesee Valley Trail into the City of Swartz Creek, the City Council has authorized their legal counsel to initiate condemnation proceedings to obtain the remaining easements needed to build the trail.

The proposed extension takes the trail south along Dye Road from Norko Drive in Flint Township, then west along Miller and Bristol roads, and south along a Consumers Energy easement behind private property on Elms Road to the east side of Elms Park.

For much of the route, existing easements are sufficient for installing the 10-foot wide paved pathway, city officials have said. In segments where more space is needed, most of the property owners have granted written or verbal authorization, or continue to negotiate with the city.

“We would rather do this in good faith,” said City Manager Adam Zettel.

However, there are a few hold-outs, including General Motors. Zettel has said the automaker initially was cooperating with the city but, in March, withdrew from negotiations citing concerns for pedestrian safety in the areas where the trail would cross the company’s driveways.

General Motors representatives, at that time, recommended the city take the trail across Miller Road twice to circumnavigate GM property, Zettel has said.

The City Council is hoping the legal action will bring GM back into negotiations outside of a courtroom.

“It seems like they wanted the city to move in this direction rather than just giving (the easement) away,” said city attorney Chris Stritmatter. “This will force them back to the table.”

Zettel said it’s “tough to get a read” on GM and, “it could simply be a matter of getting the request to the right person.”

Mayor David Krueger commented, “My guess is no one feels they have the right to give us permission.”

If the city condemns and assumes ownership of the swath of land needed for the trail, it is likely to relieve GM of any liability, Zettel said.

The city will have the property appraised and make good faith offers of compensation.

Appraisals also will be performed on the office building at the northwest corner of Miller and Dye roads, and on one residence where the owner is also not communicating with the city.

A resolution approved by the City Council on Monday, Sept. 14, states that the trail extension is “a high priority regional asset that functions as an integral part of a non-motorized transportation network, as well as a recreational asset. The extension will provide value for walkers, bikers, joggers and other users by providing a direct health and recreational benefit and by providing access to non-motorized travel between key destinations.”

City officials began considering the trail extension in June 2014.

In 2018, the city applied for grants from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Natural Resources to cover about 87 percent of the estimated $1 million construction cost.

MDOT approved the city’s application for a $600,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant that year, on the condition the city put up 35 percent of that sum.

The DNR has twice rejected a request for a $300,000 Recreation Passport grant that the city needs in order to come up with the 35 percent contribution needed to get the final OK for the MDOT money.

The city re-applied for the DNR grant this year, and should receive word on the outcome next month.