Condo residents disappointed, but resigning themselves to SWLRT agreement


While the mayor's office and Metro Council may have reached a compromise on the Southwest Light Rail Transit project earlier this week, there certainly hasn't been universal acclaim for the agreement. People have complained about the route for countless reasons -- noise, vibrations, foliage, you name it.

But among the loudest voices for a different route have been condominium associations, especially the ones located right along the proposed line. Their case wasn't helped after the Tuesday compromise, as the mayor's office announced that the proposed tunnel south of the channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles -- a tunnel that the condominium associations have been so worried about -- will still be going in.

See also: Southwest LRT takes step forward with Minneapolis, Met Council agreement

One group, the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association, is concerned that the tunnel is set to run only a few feet away from their facilities, close enough that there are concerns about the structural safety of the condos and their parking ramp. The group is also concerned that only about 15 percent of the engineering work has actually been completed on the area where the tunnel will go near the building, meaning there are plenty of unknowns.

The latest agreement hasn't changed those concerns. And that's left some members of the Calhoun Isles association worried.

"I'm very disappointed, and I'm very disenchanted," said Nancy Green, who represents the association with the council. "There's too many pressures coming from unions. Coming from the downtown council. Pressure from the outside. I would rather they sit back and taken another look at the preferred route."

The tough part, Green says, is that with an agreement in place, the project's so far down the road that she doesn't see a way for anything to change with the tunnel. So even with enough assurances in place, "I probably won't be comfortable until it's finished," Green says.

The Met Council has maintained that it will keep working with the associations, even into the summer, to make sure that the condos aren't in danger. And the council and mayor's office say that while they considered other options, it ultimately just wasn't feasible from an engineering perspective to get rid of the south tunnel.

Meredith Vadis, a spokesperson for the council, said that the actual surface area of the Kennilworth Corridor simply can't handle a light rail line on it, along with its already extensive recreation trails, so in order for the plan to work, the shallow tunnel is still needed.

"It is simply too narrow, so it necessitates a tunnel for the LRT," Vadis wrote.

The decision for a shallow tunnel was ultimately brought on by the fact that the freight trails through the Kenilworth Corridor were originally intended to be temporary, with light rail eventually replacing freight. But votes over the years have made that option disappear.

That plan -- with light rail replacing freight -- was the one originally endorsed by the mayor's office, says Peter Wagenius, the mayor's policy director. Wagenius says that once that plan changed, the city was left with limited options, which has meant sacrifice for many, including the condo associations.

"We understood where they were coming from, and we were very skeptical of the shallow tunnels to start with," said Wagenius. "But were we able to provide them reassurances? Probably not."

While they're disappointed, the associations knew this was a possible reality. In a joint letter from the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association and the Cedar Lake Shores Townhome Association from all the way back in January, the associations said that if they couldn't get the route changed or get the tunnel lowered, the proposed shallow tunnel "provides the best alternative for mitigating our serious concerns regarding sight, sound, safety and vibration issues related to the proposed SWLRT."

As it turns out, that's exactly what happened.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.