Park Board organizing LRT advisory group

Adding another facet to the ongoing Southwest light rail discussion, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted last month to organize a citizens advisory committee (CAC) to mitigate the impact of the route on parkland.

Park Board commissioners, City Council members, neighborhood associations, Mayor R.T. Rybak and County Commissioner Gail Dorfman will appoint the 17-member CAC. The group will consider historical, cultural, visual, social, and safety issues associated with the 14-mile Southwest Light Rail Transit line (LRT).  

The route will start Downtown, travel along the Kenilworth trail between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, then stretch through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka, ending in Eden Prairie. Along the way, it will intersect or run adjacent to Bryn Mawr Meadows, Park Siding and parkland around Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun.

“So we have a very vested interest along with all of our park users when it comes to all the mitigation issues that might need to be addressed on our behalf,” said Park Board Commissioner Anita Tabb (District 4), who is leading the CAC formation. “So what we really want to try to do is ask the community members who use those specific parkland areas to help us advocate on behalf of the parks and the parkland to help us determine recommendations on what type of mitigation we should be looking for.”

The Federal Transit Administration is reviewing a draft environmental impact statement for the project. A 45-day public comment period will follow the review, expected to wrap up this fall. The CAC has to submit its findings and recommendations by the end of the comment period, so Tabb is hoping to have the group finalized in September.

It’s a tight deadline, she said, but the Metropolitan Council didn’t choose the route until last spring and the Park Board couldn’t organize a CAC without knowing what parkland would be affected. The Southwest LRT project has already had a broader CAC in place for several years, but Tabb said the Park Board’s group serves a much narrower purpose.   

“We’re not trying to have an influence on where the line goes,” Tabb said. “I don’t think that’s our role. “What our role really is, is once we understand where the line is supposed to go, to advocate on behalf of the park users and the parkland in that particular area.”

By mid-August, many CAC members were already appointed, but the Park Board was still seeking applications. At-Large Commissioner Bob Fine said finding interested citizens has not been difficult.

“I think there’s a lot of people out there who are very interested overall about LRT, but also about how it affects parkland and we need to be proactive and think about how it’s going to affect parkland,” he said.

One eager CAC member is Jeanette Colby, who will represent the Kenwood Isles Area Association. Colby said she expects the rail line to have a significant impact on parkland, including bike trails, the Grand Rounds, the lakes, Kenilworth Trail and Cedar Lake Park.

“I think what really needs to be explored is what can be done to retain the quality of the experience for park users,” she said.

She said she’s also interested in making sure Cedar Lake Park is preserved, especially since citizens invested thousands of hours to develop and maintain it during the past couple decades.

The Park Board expects the new CAC to meet four to six times from September to mid-November. The schedule could become shorter if the environmental impact statement is released sooner. Meetings are tentatively scheduled for Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Park Board headquarters, 2117 W. River Road.

Anyone interested in applying for a spot on the CAC can find an application at minneapolisparks.org or call Alex Zachary at 230-6470.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.