A 100-acre storage area for automobiles in St. Paul Park, Minnesota, is a prospect local officials don’t like — but don’t think they can derail it.
BNSF Railway plans to store up to 6,000 automobiles unloaded from railroad cars until they are loaded onto trucks to be taken to dealerships. Some 65 trucks would go in and out of the site every day.
“There is not a lot we can do to stop it,” said Mayor Keith Franke. The land is zoned for residential use, but zoning regulations do not apply to this railroad project, he said.
“We are trying to work with the railroad. But being happy is not one of the things that we are.”
The railroad is holding a series of meetings to explain its plans.
The area — as big as 77 football fields — is in southern St. Paul Park, near Grey Cloud Island and Cottage Grove. The lot would be west of the railroad tracks between 15th Avenue South and Grey Cloud Trail.
The railroad owns another 200 acres that will remain farmland — for now. Railroad spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the other acreage may be developed later if the car-shipping business expands.
She said the facility would be fenced in and accessed only through a check-in gate. The railroad would build nine spur lines into the facility to speed the process of unloading the cars.
Construction would begin next spring and be completed in 2018, she said.
The project would allow the railroad to shut down a similar unloading facility in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood of St. Paul, McBeth said.
She said the railroad plans to run the trucks along an existing truck route — from Grey Cloud Island Drive to Third Street, then to St. Paul Park Road, Summit Avenue and U.S. 61.
More truck traffic is the last thing that that Brenda Ewy wants to see.
“Right now it’s almost intolerable on some days,” said Ewy, who runs a day care business out of her home on Third Street.
She takes the kids outside to play on her driveway for more than two hours a day. “I stand on my driveway for a living,” she said. “I am exposed to the traffic, and so are my kids.”
Mayor Franke said the city already has truck traffic from Aggregate Industries on Grey Cloud Island and the Western Refining oil facility in St. Paul Park.
“All these trucks are going to be funneled through our little tiny town,” said Franke. “And it all goes into an underdeveloped overpass on Highway 61.”
The route along Third Street also is problematic, said city administrator Kevin Walsh. The car-carrying trucks would be rumbling through residential areas past Oltman Middle School, which is scheduled to become Nuevas Fronteras elementary school in 2018.
“The full trucks leaving will put wear and tear on Third Street,” Walsh said. “The empty ones coming in will be extremely loud.”
Railroad spokeswoman McBeth said the railway is open to running trucks on an alternative route, if one can be identified.
City officials see the unloading facility as a lost opportunity.
Several years ago, the owner of the 300-acre site signed a purchase agreement with national homebuilder D.R. Horton, according to administrator Walsh.
Plans called for 1,800 homes. But the project became mired in red tape and local objections. When the housing market collapsed and the Great Recession hit in 2008, the deal fell apart.
Now, said Mayor Franke, the 6,000-car facility will make the area less attractive for housing.
“I see it as a loss of 300 acres for potentially prime development,” said Franke. “I see potential damage to property values, noise, light pollution, road deterioration.”