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Groups line up for and against streetcar extension

Updated: 2014-02-19T01:34:46Z

By ROXIE HAMMILL

Special to The Star

Residents who live south of the University of Missouri-Kansas City are already taking sides for the next battle over city streetcars — a proposed route expansion along the Trolley Track Trail that may be years from becoming reality.

Some people who live along the Main Street Plus corridor from UMKC to about 85th Street and Prospect Avenue have organized to fight the streetcar line, worrying that it may disturb the family-friendly ambience of the trail.

Another neighborhood group is campaigning in favor of the extension in hopes that the streetcar line will eventually reach new development at 85th Street and bring increased home values and retail to that area of south Kansas City.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sly James has appointed residents in the corridor to an advisory committee to address their concerns.

All the interest closely follows the Kansas City Council’s decision to give the go-ahead to formation of a new special taxing district to fund the expansion. The district includes the area from State Line Road to Interstate 435 and the Missouri River to 85th Street. The city is considering a 1-cent sales tax within that district, plus property tax assessments to those living within a half-mile each side of the route.

Local funding is necessary so the city can be in the running in a highly competitive race for federal funds.

Fighting the taxing district and streetcar route is the newly formed Save the Trolley Trail. Sherry DeJanes, a lawyer who is heading that effort, said the group began about a month ago when she and two neighbors became concerned about how the streetcar could affect the trail.

Studies are still being done on the exact route, but if the streetcar runs along the trail right-of-way, it will affect the experience for walkers, bikers and joggers, as well as for those whose homes are nearby, she said. In fact, DeJanes is one of those. The Trolley Trail runs directly behind her home.

As group members considered environmental impact, noise and vibrations from the streetcar, they also decided the city’s taxing proposal is unfair, DeJanes said.

“The more we got into it, the more we realized there were inequities built in,” she said, particularly to those living close to the line who will pay additional property tax.

“The city is asking us to buy a pig in a poke and pay not just one year but every year,” she said.

The property tax would be in effect for 25 years and the sales tax for 30 years.

DeJanes promised a “full-force onslaught” against the extension, beginning with the legal procedure that sets up the taxing district. She hopes to have 30 residents who will file as respondents to the city’s court petition to set up the district. A hearing on that is set for April 2.

If the court gives its OK, voters will be asked in August to approve the district and in November to approve the actual taxes.

If that fails and the court OKs the district, DeJanes said, she expects to also wage a campaign against the extension in those elections.

“We’re very serious about this. We need sewers fixed. We need the school system fixed. We need the things already in place to be fixed and maintained,” she said.

She’s asked Save the Trolley Trail supporters to sign up for the mayor’s advisory committee, although she fears it may be just “window dressing. But I hope to be proven wrong.”

Taking the opposite side in that fight will be the South Kansas City Alliance. The Alliance supports the extension because of the potential good it can do for the neighborhood, said president Stacey Johnson-Cosby.

“It’s important to us as well that the trail be preserved,” she said. But Johnson-Cosby said she’s convinced the trail will be protected.

Johnson-Cosby, who sells real estate, said that with anticipated development near there — like the Cerner offices and Oxford on the Blue business park — the streetcar would add value to neighborhoods in the area because employees would have more choices about where to live.

“It would be a great selling point, to be able to tell them they have mass transit options,” she said.

Lou Austin, another streetcar supporter who sits on the board of directors of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance, said other cities’ streetcar experiences show the vehicles can exist close to walkers and cars, as the St. Charles streetcar does in New Orleans. There’s more than enough room on the Trolley Track Trail right of way for both, with adequate separation, he said.

Although some landscaping may become a casualty, he said, the streetcar project may free up funds that could be used to improve the trail. Currently Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, which owns the trail, relies on leased parking spaces for income to maintain the trail, he said.

City Councilman John Sharp, who represents the area, said neighbors should be reassured that the city is committed to preserving the trail.

“If anything, the trail will be enhanced,” he said. “It certainly won’t be jeopardized or compromised in any way.”

The electric streetcar will be almost noiseless, he said. And there will be adequate separation between the trail and the streetcar line.

Most of the trail has a 100-foot right-of-way, but it does narrow to 50 feet in places, he said. But the streetcar won’t necessarily have to run its whole route in the right-of-way. In areas with smaller rights-of-way, the car could run on the street.

“Those are details that have to be worked out. All of us for the streetcar are very committed to preserving the Trolley Track Trail and the adjoining areas that make the trail such a pleasant place.”

Sharp said concerns and opposition are natural when it comes to taxes. But the streetcar will end up enhancing property values for the people near the line, he said.

Sharp’s home near 103rd Terrace is outside the special property tax assessment area. But he said he’d be pleased if he lived that close to the line, even if it would mean a higher tax.

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