Hopkins isn’t thrilled with putting a Southwest Transitway operations and maintenance facility anywhere in the community, but residents are particularly upset about the prospect of servicing trains on two sites near the Blake Road Corridor.
Those sites—8098 Excelsior Boulevard and a handful of parcels along Powell Road—are bordered by residential areas on three sides.
“I would say as a homeowner, probably most of us are more concerned about the sound element that’s going to affect our properties more than anything else,” Illona Iris, a decades-long Hopkins resident who lives behind Cargill, said at Wednesday’s public comment meeting.
Sound was far from the only worry, though. Judy Elling—Hopkins Business & Civic Association board president and ResourceWest executive director—worried that Westside Village residents would be able to see the train yard from their balconies. Still, she also worried about the sound of work taking place 20 hours a day and bells from trains going in and out of the facility.
“This is not a compatible site at all,” she said.
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Southwest Light Rail Transit planners say the facility won’t be as intrusive as residents fear. It will only be used for daily cleanings and light maintenance—not the heavy overhauls that are done in a Hiawatha facility. There won’t be an outside rail yard; trains will be stored inside. Neighbors also won’t hear the heavy bangs of cars crashing together as they would with a freight rail station.
They point out that the Central Corridor facility is near housing and businesses.
Planners have narrowed the list of potential operations and maintenance facility sites down to nine possibilities—four of which are in Hopkins. In addition to the sites near the Blake Road Corridor, they’ve also shortlisted parcels off 11th Avenue South and K-Tel Drive.
Residents are less vocal about those sites because they’re in industrial areas, but city officials say it’s unfair for a small city like Hopkins to take such a hit to its tax base. City Engineer John Bradford noted that a facility would take away .5 to .75 percent of the city’s tax base compared to .1 to .2 percent in other communities.
“It is absolutely critical that we heal this disproportionate burden,” he said. “And frankly, if we’re losing this kind of tax base, and you want to maintain your services in town, that’s going to mean higher taxes for everybody.”
Listen to Bradford’s full speech in the video above.
Many residents just wanted a clearer picture of how Southwest LRT planners chose the sites. After project leaders detailed the criteria they used to evaluate the 18 original sites, attendees pressed the speakers to explain how each factor was weighted (answer: they weren’t). Interlachen resident Lance Golinghorst suggested that planners release a grid of how each site rated on those factors.
“I think there’s concern and skepticism about the objectivity—which I’m sure there is,” he said. “But if you don’t provide visibility, it’s just going to become an emotional, skeptical situation.”
Planners will next pick two or three sites as finalists and present them to the project’s advisory committees in June or July. They’ll recommend a final site in July or August and seek Metropolitan Council approval in August.
Bradford emphasized that he’s not singling out any other community and saying put the facility there instead of in Hopkins. He said he just wants to ensure the costs and benefits are spread evenly across the line.
“The walkaway point from this is that there’s a lot of smart people in the room and we have to figure out how to spread the harm of the tax base impact that this would have in Hopkins, if it lands in Hopkins,” he said.