More than two dozen Brooklyn Park homes could fall to the wrecking ball and nearly 100 property owners might lose land for a road expansion and, ultimately, a light-rail line in the north metro.
Every landowner along a two-mile stretch would be affected under a Hennepin County plan to widen W. Broadway and create space for the Bottineau LRT, which would run from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park.
Proponents, including Brooklyn Park’s mayor, say it’s the price of progress that will benefit the city for decades. Opponents contend there are other options and they find it galling that an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood could get $160 million in tunnels to hide the Southwest light-rail line while Brooklyn Park gets bulldozers and surface tracks.
“Brooklyn Park homeowners — most of whom are low- or middle-income families, a lot of single parents and seniors — get forced from their properties,” said City Council Member John Jordan. “What did my residents do to the Met Council and our county commissioner to deserve to be so disrespected?”
The Twin Cities bought into light-rail transit a decade ago, shoehorning the Hiawatha/Blue Line and the soon-to-open Central Corridor/Green Line into dense urban cores. So far, planners have largely avoided taking out homes by using existing rail corridors, medians and rights of way. One home and three businesses were razed and 22 other private property owners lost part of their land for the Hiawatha line, which opened in 2004. Two vacant buildings and slivers of about 60 commercial properties, but no homes, were taken for the Central line.
Plans for the Southwest line, which would run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, also avoid bulldozing single-family homes.
But a spokeswoman for the Met Council, the regional planning agency, said that line and Bottineau can’t be compared.
“Southwest and Bottineau are separate and distinct projects and are at very different stages of the development process,” Meredith Vadis said. “However, both projects will create jobs and make considerable investments in the many neighborhoods along each line.”
Last week, an overflow crowd packed Brooklyn Park City Hall to get a first glimpse of detailed maps of the W. Broadway road project. Marked with red X’s, the maps showed:
• 11 residences need to be torn down because they are in the right of way.
• 17 residences are within 15 feet of the right of way and would likely be acquired and razed.
• 43 other properties — homes, two businesses and a church — are within 50 feet, which means the county could try to acquire parts or all of the sites.
Some residents held protest signs and asked pointed questions. Others seemed resigned, even though the $41 million county road project still needs city approval. The City Council, which delayed a decision on the road project earlier this spring, will consider it again in June.
The light-rail line would likely cut through Brooklyn Park and up W. Broadway. To handle the tracks, Hennepin County would first need to expand the street to a divided four-lane highway with a median at least 33 feet wide. County officials want to start preliminary work on the road project this year, including buying homes in the way. The county could spend more than $10 million to do that.
When the roadwork is complete, the Met Council would oversee construction of the LRT line, if federal funding can be secured. Officials hope the line will be operating by late 2019.
The county will negotiate with homeowners, offering fair market value based on appraisals, but will resort to eminent domain if needed. For homeowners who owe more that their property is worth, the county will pay off the outstanding mortgage, said Eric Drager, Hennepin County land acquisition manager.
“We will not leave anyone worse off than they are right now. If they are underwater with their mortgage, we will at least zero them out,” Drager said. “They won’t have to put any money into the deal for our project.”
Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde said that plans to expand W. Broadway have circulated for a decade. He acknowledged that widening the project for the light rail is a newer development but said it will ultimately benefit the city. The LRT path through Brooklyn Park was one of four northern routes studied.
“If we are saying no, we could send the light rail to Maple Grove. They will reap the benefits. Their residents will have access to affordable transportation,” Lunde said. “We have to look at the long-term health of the city. … We had to take homes for [Hwys.] 252, 94 and 610. Those are painful things but they are important at the end of the day.”
Lunde said he’s received several e-mails from residents who support the project.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said: “We are planning this complicated project. We’re always taking the long view of 50 to 60 years.”
Opponents say there are other possible routes that would do less damage to neighborhoods, and some note that the proposed LRT line would end near the doorstep of Target’s Brooklyn Park campus. “The cynic says that this plan is about bringing a train to Target’s front door,” said City Council Member Jordan.
Jordan also said it’s hard to explain to his constituents why they must sacrifice their homes and neighborhood while the upscale Kenilworth neighborhood in Minneapolis could get tunnels for the Southwest line.
Lunde said comparing the Southwest LRT and Brooklyn Park project is unproductive.
At last week’s meeting, resident Mike Holzinger pointed to the red X marking the split-level house he bought in 1982.
“There were horses still out there,” Holzinger said. He was moving away from city life; now it has come to him, and the house where he and his wife raised their children may be razed.
“I’m upset, of course,” Holzinger said. “It was brand new when I bought it. I am still updating it — siding, windows and roof.”
Holzinger attended the meeting to learn more about the acquisition process. He and others are worried they won’t recoup the money they’ve spent keeping their homes up.
John Holm’s home is just outside the right of way. He said that’s almost worse than getting marked with an X. His home would rattle and shake 20 hours a day if the light rail barrels through, he said. Having the county take it “would have been a way out.”