Hopkins and Minnetonka residents packed Monday evening, full of questions about the proposed Shady Oak Road reconstruction project and home acquisitions.
Another question in many minds was whether the project was actually going to happen.
One well-received comment from the gallery: “Pick a date and stick to it.”
City and county officials say the project is necessary due to pedestrian and traffic issues. However, some people directly impacted by the project doubt those reasons to be true, saying there is actually less traffic on Shady Oak Road now than there was years ago and no real safety issues.
“I’m hearing that the driving force behind this project is the $7.2 million,” said one person who attended, standing from his chair to address officials. He referred to the federal funding now earmarked for this project.
“You say you would look foolish if you don’t take advantage of the $7.2 million, and I say that is not correct," he said. "Don’t do the things that are negative on the people who live and work on that road.”
Applause filled the room after he made his comments.
Officials maintained they’ve been trying to complete this project for 30 years, and it needs to be done.
“We understand the impact for the folks that live and work along the corridor,” said Craig Twinem, a design division manager for Hennepin County's transportation department.
If everything goes as planned, Hopkins and Minnetonka city councils will approve the project at meetings in March or April. Project design would take up most of this year, with 2013 focused on right-of-way acquisition and 2014 on construction. In addition to the federal dollars, Minnetonka will pay $2.5 million and Hopkins $2.8 million to the construction costs. The federal funding is contigent on completion by 2014.
In 2006, the Minnetonka and Hopkins city councils approved an even larger reconstruction plan for Shady Oak Road, which included demolishing long-standing businesses such as and . But when the federal funding dried out, so did the project.
The revised project is smaller in scale and budget, with less impact to businesses and homes. None of the businesses are now set for demolition, but the widened street will take out several parking lots used by these businesses. The county will acquire several homes, and homeowners are eager to know the details of their futures.
“This is the house that we were going to raise our family in and grow old in, and now that’s not going to happen,” said Bill Scherer, who lives on the Hopkins side of Shady Oak Road.
The county plans to acquire Scherer's home at “the going rate,” said Scherer, who didn't receive an exact figure. County officials will take bids for the acquired homes to be relocated before they demolish any of them.
“We don’t know where we are going to live right now,” Scherer said.
Nelson’s Bakery has been a family-run mainstay on Shady Oak Road since 1965.
Second-generation owner Rick Nelson said he loves being part of the Hopkins community and regularly make donations to groups and churches. He would love to keep on with the bakery’s tradition, but this project will take away all of the store’s parking.
Officials say they hope to pick up a couple of properties to create parking lots and that they want to do anything they can for the businesses affected.
Nelson doesn’t believe them.
“I think it’s really lip service, to be honest with you,” he said. “They just want to get the project done. I don’t think they are doing the right thing here—taking people’s homes and destroying people’s businesses.”
Nelson said he’s not only worried about his own livelihood, but also the impact on his eight full-time employees. If the parking situation isn't solved, Nelson said he would have to try moving.
“Relocation is very difficult because people are used to coming to your location, even if you move six blocks away,” he said.
Feeling as if salt were rubbed in the wound, Nelson didn't receive notice of Tuesday’s meeting, only learning of it from a customer. City staff responded that it had sent out notices to everyone affected and couldn't say why Nelson didn't receive one.
In the meantime, Minnetonka and Hopkins city staff encouraged people with questions and concerns to reach out to them.
For the PowerPoint presentation shown on Tuesday describing the specific changes to Shady Oak Road, along with other information on the project, visit the Web sites for Hennepin County or the City of Minnetonka.