15 Sep 2014
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“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.

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.

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