LRT foes tout park tranquility in southwest Minneapolis

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2013 - 5:41 PM

Park Board objects to light-rail bridge over channel near Cedar Lake, although nearby homeowners have private access to parkland.

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A yard sign on Cedar Lake Parkway in September speaks to the proposed freight rail issue and the Southwest light-rail line.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Special to the Star Tribune

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Some Cedar Lake homeowners have long enjoyed something unique in Minneapolis: back yards on the shore of a popular lake uninterrupted by public biking or walking trails.

Now they’re getting help on another front from the same officials who allow that perk on the southeast corner of the lake.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has become an ally for Cedar Lake homeowners fighting plans for the Twin Cities’ biggest light-rail line a few blocks away. The board says running the transit over a bridge spanning a channel to Cedar Lake near existing freight trains would “permanently damage the recreational, cultural and aesthetic experience” of park users.

“Our role is to preserve and protect parks,” said Park Board President John Erwin.

But one former park supervisor sees a contradiction between that stance and a long-standing policy of letting a select group of homeowners enjoy virtual private access to public land and the shore of Cedar Lake.

“By allowing that, they block off public access,” said Ron Werner, who worked in the forestry division. “They’re providing great access to very few over there.”

The Park Board opposition throws another obstacle in the path of the most expensive light-rail venture in the Twin Cities. Gov. Mark Dayton in October delayed the project in part so that planners could reconsider its impact on the channel, Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis. The preferred route for the proposed $1.5 billion line cuts through the recreational corridor on its way from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

The Park Board believes it has the power to challenge the proposed route and designs under federal policies that prevent transportation projects from going through parkland or historic sites if a possible alternative can be found. The channel and lakes are part of the Grand Rounds district deemed eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

The project has drawn opposition from some Kenilworth area homeowners who object to 220 light-rail trains a day emerging from two tunnels to cross a bridge over the channel. Under the $160 million plan, the light rail would share a new bridge with bike and pedestrian trails. Existing freight train traffic would occupy a second bridge over the channel.

Some opponents want the light-rail line routed outside the corridor. Others want to completely hide the light rail by extending the tunnels under the channel at an estimated cost of $330 million.

The view from Park Lane

The opponents include homeowners along Park Lane on the southeast shore of Cedar Lake, a neighborhood of expensive homes, including the official residence of the Canadian consul general — owned by “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth,” according to Hennepin County property records.

One homeowner on Park Lane has led efforts to raise money for potential legal action to fight plans for running the light rail over the channel. Four others have posted signs on their front lawns demanding a “deep tunnel” under the channel.

The Park Lane opponents share a passion for the waterway, which runs between Cedar and Lake of the Isles, believing the light rail would destroy its tranquillity.

“It’s such a little teeny spot, you think if it would go away it’s no big deal,” said Park Lane homeowner Jim Kirkham. “But I would miss it a lot. ... I see people on the weekends and they are awed. It’s almost like they are in a different place for a while.”

Kirkham said the ambience would change for many canoeists using the channel. “You’re going to have a light-rail experience,” he said.

Roger Lacey, a retired 3M executive and native of Britain who moved to Park Lane over a decade ago, was more emphatic.

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