Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 4, 2012

Neighbors split on track wye

City plans to move train turnaround to Garfield Township


TRAVERSE CITY — John Judd wants to know how Traverse City sidetracked its train wye problem to his Garfield Township neighborhood — without public notice to adjoining property owners.

Judd and his mother live on Cass Road, next to a spot where Traverse City purchased land in 2011 through the Grand Traverse County Land Bank Authority. The city will gouge into hills and fill wetlands to replace an existing train wye inside the city limits.

A wye is a track section that allows a train to back up and turn around to head in the opposite direction from which it arrived. It resembles an upside down Y that sits on existing track.

"It just seems really odd that no one tells you anything about it," Judd said. "There's a lot of lowlands in there and I'm concerned about the environment and the impact on the wildlife."

Judd discovered the city's plans in a roundabout way, including a cryptic discussion with neighboring property owners. They planned to sell their land, but wouldn't discuss the buyer.

A few months later he checked public records to discover Grand Traverse County officials bought the agriculture-zoned 34 acres for $315,000. Garfield Township officials wouldn't answer Judd's questions and referred him to the city, who sent him to the county's land bank authority.

"It just seems we had to really push and dig and ask a lot of questions because no one was forthcoming with any information," Judd said.

Ben Bifoss, city manager, said public notice wasn't required to construct the wye because it's a transportation project and exempt from zoning.

Jean Derenzy is the county's deputy director planning and economic development. She believed she had no obligation to inform Judd or his neighbors of the project because it was a land purchase.

Judd spoke with most of his neighbors, many of whom were surprised to discover the city's plans.

Mary Meachum's family lives directly in the middle of the wye, and one arm of the railroad will come about 30 yards from the corner of her house. But Meachum isn't concerned.

"When I bought it this was supposed to be a lot of homes built around here, and I much prefer trains," Meachum said. "I love trains; I wish we got more."

Residents said they get about one to three trains a year on the tracks that run along Cass Road.

"Unless trains make a big comeback ... my feeling is nothing is going to happen," Meachum said.

City officials want the Michigan Department of Transportation to abandon the city wye in order to construct a new, north and south road on the west side of Boardman Lake that would be called Boardman Lake Avenue. MDOT requires the city to build a new wye, and accepted the Cass Road site.

But city officials agreed last year that they want to move the wye regardless of whether Boardman Lake Avenue is built, Bifoss said. Project funding will come from the county Brownfield Redevelopment Authority.

"We should do it within the next five years, but it's not pressing," Bifoss said.