Hopkins Council approves operations facility for SWLRT

by Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers

The Hopkins City Council on Jan. 3 unanimously approved the site plan for the upcoming Southwest Light Rail Transit operations and maintenance facility.

Located at the intersection of Fifth and Sixth Streets South and 16th Avenue South, the proposed site includes four lots that will be consolidated into one property, featuring a main building, storage and a cleaning area. The facility was first proposed and approved in 2015 to serve as critical infrastructure for the light rail line extending from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, providing cleaning, storage and light maintenance for up to 30 trains. According to the proposal, the facility will also house 160 permanent jobs for skilled mechanics, operators and support staff on a three-shift schedule that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Representatives of Metropolitan Council said that of these workers, 40-60 employees will be present at the site at a given time. The proposal includes 109 parking stall to provide ample accommodations.
The city planning and zoning commission reviewed the plans at a Dec. 20 meeting, and in a 4-2 vote, the commission recommended that the council approve the plans.

Both the commission and the council heard concerns from residents regarding the potential noise and light impact of the facility on surrounding properties.
“While the city is sympathetic to the concerns raised, we really feel like it’s more appropriate to address during environmental impact phase,” said Hopkins City Planner Jason Lindahl. He added that city staff would work with the light rail project office on light overspill to ensure compliance with city standards.
“Staff feels comfortable that we’ve got a good understanding … of what the project office’s requirements are and how to temper to the city standards and make sure they can blend in and are a good neighbor to the other uses,” Lindahl said.

Lisa Moe, CEO of Stuart Companies, which owns Greenfield Apartments, Raspberry Woods, and Deer Ridge Apartments as well as Hopkins Plaza, requested that the site plan be revised to include a sound and light barrier, since the facility will create vibration, noise and light at all hours.
“We have gone through all the proper channels … but our concerns still haven’t been heard or satisfied.” Moe said. “Our map clearly shows that we’re going to be affected. … We want the city to understand that noise, lights and vibrations from this OMF will be very detrimental to our properties and peoples’ home. It will be detrimental to our ability to retain residents and there is no doubt that it will lower the value of our properties.”

Tats Tanaka, of the Southwest project office said the Met Council addressed the all environmental concerns in August 2016 during consideration of the environmental review.
He added that standards set by the Federal Transit Administration have been met regarding mitigation of light and sound.
“We are really tied to what the FTA defines as what we can go after,” he said.

Ryan Kronzer, assistant director of design and land use for the project, added that rail lubricators would be installed to help minimize the noise impact of the trains, particularly along sharp corners of the light rail line. Concerning light impact, he said the train’s headlights would be angled down and toward the direction of the line, away from neighboring properties.

Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings said that Met Council seems to have addressed concerns to the best of its ability.
“The FTA requirements are a little bit more liberal than some of the cities,” she said. “Hopefully the discussion can continue and we can work toward making changes that are possible to make that satisfy the project and also our residents and business owners.”

The council also approved the fence variance request included in the proposal, which would reduce to zero the usual distance of 20 feet from property line to the proposed fencing.
This would permit a fence to be constructed just inside the property line, a use permitted elsewhere in the city’s residential and commercial zoning districts, but requiring the variance on the property, classified under the I-2 industrial zoning.

Conditions of the variance include that the height of the fence be decreased from 8 feet to 6 feet, and a higher-quality, more ornamental material be used, to help mitigate the visual impact of the fence on the surrounding neighborhood. The project office was also instructed to include landscape and other aesthetic enhancements where practical.

City staff members recommended approval of the site plan and variance, as both were determined to be consistent with the city’s zoning standards and comprehensive plan.
The administrative subdivision consolidating the four lots will be presented to the council at a future meeting, according to staff.

The council also approved subordinate funding agreements related to the project.
The agreements formalized two commitments the mayor and council members had supported.
One, a staircase for the Blake Road Regional Trail underpass, is an addition to the base project, made possible by a $30,000 contribution from the city. The staircase is a decorative and functional enhancement to improve access to Blake Road and the station.

The much larger project of the Blake Road underpass is being paid for by Hennepin County and Three Rivers Park District.
The St. Louis Park City Council has a comparable agreement for a similar addition to their portion of the light rail line, staff members added.
“This goes back to our commitment to partnership,” Councilmember Jason Gadd said of the addition, which will contribute to fully connect and enhance the benefits of the rail line in the community.

The second agreement is part of the overall investment to the base project, not an addition, according to Lindahl — it entails a $500,000 contribution to the project. The council initially agreed to commit the funds in July 2015, part of an overall effort to leverage critical mass for the rail line and proves its credibility and local support.
The funds will be contributed in three annual payments from the city’s economic development fund.
In other business, the council has approved a one-year moratorium on pawn shops and coin dealerships in the city. The ban was enacted via the second reading of an ordinance, which includes a staff report describing the businesses as having “the potential for the presence of stolen goods as well as the possibility of questionable lending practice,” and on which the city attorney recommended “careful reconsideration” given the extension of Metro Transit through Hopkins. The ordinance was first introduced at a Dec. 20 council meeting.
“It’s standard practice, to take a pause on the issue to further understand the impact on the city,” said Kersten Elverum, director of planning and economic development.

The moratorium will not affect current businesses.

The council also appointed these members to the city’s Public Art Advisory Commitee: city staff member Meg Beekman, Art Center representative Jim Clark and Hopkins business owner Mike Wilkus. Staff member Jay Strachota and residents Fawzia Khan and CJ Renner were reappointed to the committee.
The council will next meet 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at City Hall.

Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]