Approval puts land transfer on fast track for light rail

by Rob Kuznia

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a deal Wednesday to swap land with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, a move critical to the expansion of the Hiawatha corridor for light rail transit.
The proposal barely passed; six of nine votes were needed to approve the land transfer.
If the decision is approved by the Federal District Court, MnDOT will receive roughly seven acres of land north of East 54th Street in exchange for about nine acres of land given to the park board.
Park board commissioner Dean Zimmermann maintained the word “transfer” was really a euphemism for a park board giveaway, because the board virtually owned the land they acquired in the transfer.
“We’ve been mowing and piling wood chips on that land for quite some time. It looks like park land, it smells like park land and it tastes like park land,” he said.
Now, Zimmermann said, the highway will come within 50 feet of the Princess Depot, a historical train station at the park, despite the protests of himself, two other commissioners and about 150 demonstrators who showed up to watch the meeting before the vote.
But Vivian Mason, a park board commissioner who was undecided on the issue as of Tuesday, said while she voted in favor of the land transfer, she did so with the demonstrators’ values in mind.
“There has been a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation about this issue,” she said. “Would the road still happen if we voted against the transfer? Yes it would. In fact, without the transfer, there could be even more damage to the land.”
For instance, the park board has no control over the strip of land between East 54th Street and East 62nd Street, where Coldwater Springs is located, she said.
“If the demonstrators main concern is to save Coldwater Springs, they should deal with those who have control of that portion of land,” Mason added.
Zimmermann disagreed.
“Her suggestion that (MnDOT) would build there is an absurd proposition,” he said.