A federal lawsuit filed by a group of Minnetonka residents against the Metropolitan Council has become the latest legal salvo against the Southwest Corridor light-rail line.
The lawsuit, announced Tuesday, accuses the council of excluding an area of serene Minnetonka woods, wetlands and trails from its environmental reviews. It was filed by residents and the owner of Claremont Apartments, located 90 feet from the planned light-rail line — the closest location, they say, that trains will go to a residential building on the 16-mile route through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.
“To us, it seemed like a serious misstep,” said Jerry Kavan, senior project manager for the apartment company’s Nebraska-based owner, SFI Ltd. He added that the dense woods and hills make the area a “gem” and a “typical Minnesota” site.
“We’re pro transit-oriented … but they should have looked at alternate routes,” he said.
The lawsuit argues that the Met Council acted too quickly and didn’t take adequate steps to review how the line would affect the Opus Hill area, 49 acres of woods, wetlands and park trails next to the 330-unit apartment complex. The light-rail line would cut through the hillside where trees will have been removed.
While plans for the $1.6 billion line, which the council wants to start operating by 2019, have drawn controversy and pushback over the last few years from communities like St. Louis Park and Minneapolis, they have spurred little dispute in Minnetonka.
However, last June, before the west-metro suburb gave its municipal consent to the line, Claremont Apartments residents requested that it be rerouted and suggested having it arc out on pylons into a nearby wetland instead. The City Council and the Met Council rejected that idea.
Now residents have formed the Opus Woods Conservation Association, and they want the Met Council, the deciding authority, to pause its process and reconsider.
“It’s backward; you shouldn’t sign off on municipal consent … without knowing the environmental impacts,” said Bill Griffith, an attorney representing the residents. “We’re not trying to stop the line … [but] take a pause like [the Met Council] did with Kenilworth … to make sure they got it right. This is intended to get their attention.”
A Met Council spokeswoman said Tuesday the agency hadn’t yet reviewed the lawsuit.
‘They should do it right’
In the lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, the association claims that the Met Council violated federal environmental laws and the state’s municipal-consent process for light-rail projects by seeking approvals for the line before an additional environmental review was completed and made public.
Kavan’s company bought the complex in 2005 and spent millions renovating the apartments, he said. Now, the loss of trees as well as the noise and vibration from the estimated 200 passing trains a day could affect whether residents like Amanda Carlson choose to live there anymore.
Carlson, a six-year resident, owns a dog-walking business and constantly uses a paved trail through the wooded area next to the complex. The light-rail line would come within 25 feet of the public trail.
“I use that trail every day; it’s Minnetonka — everybody seems to have a dog,” she said, adding that many of her clients live at Claremont, too. “It’s nice to be in an area you’re tucked back and it’s quiet. It’s peaceful and wooded.”
Another lawsuit against the Met Council was filed late last year by the Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, a group of citizens from the Kenilworth neighborhood of Minneapolis. That suit is still awaiting a ruling from U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis.
In Minnetonka, residents like Carlson hope their lawsuit will make a difference in the final design of the light-rail line.
“I really wish it would reroute to a place that makes more sense,” Carlson said. “They should do it right.”