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City takes next steps for walking trail
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Springfield City Council members are taking the next step in a potential recreational trail along Jack’s Branch.

Council members voted to approve a contract with Moreland Altobelli for land acquisition services as part of the Jack’s Branch walking trail. The trail, less than a mile long, will run from behind the Living History Site to Early Street.

"Frankly, I think it’s a good idea," City Manager Brett Bennett said of using Moreland Altobelli to negotiate the purchases. "It’s good to use an outside group."

The city has a grant from the state Department of Natural Resources for the project, but the city must follow the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisitions Policies Act of 1970 in the process.

"And you have to follow it to a T," Bennett explained, "or you risk losing it. It’s the same process as with the community development block grant."

Under the guidelines, an appraisal must be completed of the property to be purchased, and negotiations have to be conducted a certain way, Bennett added.

"If this were local money, we would handle it in-house," he said.

Bennett said the land the city is projecting to buy is between 15 to 20 acres, among three or four parcels.

"We have almost no leeway in real estate price," he said.

Bennett added that property owners the city has contacted appear agreeable to sell, and he doesn’t think negotiations will take much time.

Because of that, he recommended council members approve paying Moreland Altobelli by an hourly schedule instead of a set schedule. The flat fee proposed was $15,000 and the hourly charge is $322 per hour, including appraisal, negotiation and project management.

The land in question is "almost all creek," Bennett said, and depending on the money, the city could add more parcels to the purchase.

"The goal is to buy the property," he said. "If we can’t, then getting an easement is an option."

Moreland Altobelli previously conducted the city’s land acquisition along Highway 21 for the extension of its water line.

"I don’t know if anybody in the state has a better reputation in right-of-way acquisition," Bennett said.

The city was awarded a $70,000 grant about a year and a half ago, with the city providing a 20 percent match.

"This would go toward our match of the grant," Bennett said of the land acquisition.

The city also may pursue other grants in order to extend the walking trail.