Government & Politics

Brookside residents express concerns about possible streetcar line

All agreed that Kansas City needs high-quality mass transit.

The point of contention Saturday was where to put it. And if a proposed streetcar expansion were to mess up the pleasant surroundings of the Trolley Track Trail in Brookside, many members of a citizens panel appointed by the mayor will be very unhappy.

At the first of four scheduled meetings of the 31-member Country Club Right-of-Way Neighborhood Advisory Committee, residents in a swath south of the University of Missouri-Kansas City expressed concerns that the city’s streetcar dreams, if poorly carried out, might damage their quality of life.

The idea of resurrecting the old Country Club trolley line, stretching south through the Brookside and Waldo areas to 85th Street, would take several years to become a reality. And that’s only if voters approve taxing measures needed to expand the streetcar system from downtown — and if hefty federal funding can be obtained, officials said.

The citizens committee urged the city to take extreme care in any event.

Besides potentially scarring a popular walking and biking trail, the so-called Main Street Plus corridor plan being studied would impose a special tax assessment on property owners within a half mile of each side of the route. For a home with a market value of $100,000, the tax increase would come to about $133 annually for as long as 25 years.

Oliver Burnette and other residents said their household budgets are already stressed paying for tuition to send their children to private schools.

But Burnette said he would support a streetcar line that offered “a creative solution” to neighborhood concerns.

Kansas City Councilman Russ Johnson told the group: “We’ll do everything we can to incorporate the preferred alternative.”

Johnson, who sits on the city’s transportation committee, said the residents’ input will be gathered and considered over the next three Saturdays.

In early April, a court hearing is scheduled on the city’s petition to create a special taxing district to fund the streetcar expansion plans. If the court says OK, voters would be asked in August to approve that district. The question on the actual taxes to be levied would be put to voters in November.

Mayor Sly James appointed the citizens advisory committee because of opposition voiced by residents near the old Country Club trolley line, especially those in the Brookside neighborhood.

Resident Tom McFarland said streetcars whizzing too closely by the Trolley trail and other recreational sites “would put a scar through what really holds the neighborhood together.”

Janelle Sjue said she’d have to build a fence to keep her children from playing on the tracks.

Martin Murphy noted that he and his neighbors live comfortably enough to own cars. They may not need a streetcar line as badly as residents of less affluent neighborhoods to the east, he said.

Committee members who own businesses or live near the southern border of the proposed transportation district voiced support of the extension. They said the streetcar line, if properly designed, could “enhance” walking trails.

“None of us is going to get 100 percent of the things we want,” said streetcar supporter Lou Austin, a member of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance board. “I’m willing to comprise. We all need to remember, this is a 100-year decision.”

Others agreed on the crucial need to expand mass-transit options in a city so spread out.

“We have students all over the city who need a way to get to campus,” UMKC student Caleb-Michael Files told fellow committee members.

“I don’t own a car, and I never will,” he said, a sentiment he said many in his generation share.