“We’re Getting the Burden and None of the Benefits”

Hopkins officials question whether the Southwest Light Rail line’s plans for the Shady Oak Station and operations and maintenance facility are fair to the community.

A map of how the Shady Oak Station could be laid out.
A map of how the Shady Oak Station could be laid out.  Download PDF 

When Hopkins City Manager Mike Mornson reviewed the plans for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line’s Shady Oak Station with light rail planners Tuesday, something seemed a little off. The station has been billed as a joint one involving Minnetonka and Hopkins. Planners even changed the name when Minnetonka balked at the originally proposed “Hopkins West.”

Yet all the land for the station is going to come from Hopkins’ tax rolls—with a future parking lot planned for a prime piece of real estate on the highly visible Excelsior Boulevard. Meanwhile, the sites most likely to see the first lucrative redevelopment sit just across the border in Minnetonka.

“We’re getting the burden and none of the benefits,” Mornson said.

Cities along the line will vote in December on whether they consent to the portion of the project within their boundaries. As that time approaches, Hopkins officials are taking a close look at whether their four-square-mile city is carrying too much of the load.

Nowhere is this more the case than with the operations and maintenance facility. Light rail planners have narrowed the facility’s location down to two sites—one in Hopkins and one in Eden Prairie. Wherever its put, it’s going to eliminate redevelopment opportunities and remove property from city tax rolls. But Hopkins officials argue that’s the relative burden is much greater here since the city is so much smaller than other cities along the line.

Eden Prairie has nearly nine times the area of Hopkins and about five times the market valuation, according to an April “Briefing Paper” from Hopkins. An operations and maintenance facility in Hopkins would remove about .43 percent of the city’s market valuation, compared to about .1 percent for other communities along the line.

“The larger communities along the corridor are much better able to absorb the loss of tax base than is our small city,” Mayor Gene Maxwell wrote in the briefing paper.

These arguments aren’t lost on light rail planners. One of the project’s three principles for making major decisions is finding solutions that share benefits and burdens equally among communities along the line.

Even if the Shady Oak plans remain unchanged, the benefits could simply arrive later. The facility would need only a portion of the properties that would be acquired. Once the project is done, the remainder of those properties could be sold and redeveloped. Other properties will never have to be acquired.

Something similar could happen with the parking lot on Excelsior. Once demand has risen sufficiently, workers could build a parking ramp next to the station and return the Excelsior property to private development.

Craig Lamothe, Southwest LRT’s deputy project director, noted at Tuesday’s meeting that there is precedent for that. In Brooklyn Park, the Met Council undertook a more-expensive parking project in order to free up a lucrative commercial site.

And none of this has dimmed the city’s enthusiasm for the project. Hopkins officials are still counting on light rail to boost development around all three of the stations in the community.

Eric Anondson August 15, 2013 at 07:45 PM
Frankly, on a more serious note, I don't think most Hopkins residents or elected officials or even city staff have the stomach for the kind of density that would make development around these stations pay off. There is an irrational phobia against residential buildings taller than 4 stories. And the development that seems to get approved are undesirable whole-block cubic monsters that make an urban environment unattractive.
Matthew Kilanowski August 15, 2013 at 09:34 PM
So, they're complaining that too much land will be off the tax rolls for the train maintenance facility, and yet the city council has no problem with demolishing homes and businesses to widen Shady Oak Road. Why weren't they crying foul about the loss of revenue there? This is a disappointing double standard.
Eric Anondson August 16, 2013 at 12:03 AM
They did cry foul over the loss of homes to the shady oak widening, but Minnetonka is getting hit just as bad up and down the length of Shady Oak with the the widening so there is no excessive burden placed on Hopkins in that. Trying to compare the "Hopkins West" station situation with the shady oak widening is clumsy, sloppy, and lazy if not willful blindness to the disparate impact that station will have.
Matthew Kilanowski August 16, 2013 at 12:23 AM
I heard of no such objections about demolishing Hopkins properties along Shady Oak, whereas with the light rail facility we've had two Patch articles on it today alone. But if I just missed the reports then I missed the reports. In any event, I'd rather that the city didn't lose taxable property to either project. That, and I guess I was attempting to write a preemptive response to the inevitable "choo-choo bad, car good" type of comments that crop up on stories like this. Perhaps the city should lose some of that aversion to higher-density, higher-height, higher-property-value development that was mentioned to make up for the losses should Hopkins get tagged with this facility on top of the other properties we're losing to infrastructure improvements.
Eric Anondson August 16, 2013 at 01:06 AM
Might just not have been reported, but when I watch the council there was dismay at the losses Hopkins took with the widening. There just wasn't much they could DO. But it is a good point about the complaints we hear against the LRT, you never hear those voices pipe up that road widening is bad when it takes property, but they are full-throated that rail is bad for taking property. I can get a sense of being dumped on in the dealings with Hopkins neighbors, always getting the losing end of these situations. Relocate the dump to EP, EP says no deal. Locate the maintenance facility in EP or Hopkins, Hopkins loses out. Station placement for Shady Oak to serve Minnetonka, goes entirely in Hopkins. At some point this starts to become a trend and folks in the city need to start raising some hell and call it out and say "you gotta be kidding me?"


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