Some members of the East Mockingbird Neighborhood Association snickered when Pete Carapetyan stood up to speak in favor of commuter rail at their recent meeting with three Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials.
Others were just plain horrified.
“I live right on the tracks. RIGHT ON THE tracks,” said Carapetyan, a self-employed carpenter. “I, for one, am glad to see a station going in as close to my house as possible.”
The open meeting in the auditorium at Dan D. Rogers Elementary School, Mockingbird and Abrams, had followed accepted form to that point: Angry neighborhood group invites heartless government bureaucrats to public forum and assaults them with desperate, cynical, angry, snide, comments, questions, demands.
On the other side, exasperated public officials struggle to maintain their dignity, and after an hour or two, thank the audience for its input into the political process, and get the heck out of there.
Carapetyan’s comments surprised residents who had gathered to oppose DART’s preliminary plans to study running diesel-powered commuter cars on the MKT rail tracks that form the neighborhood’s north border.
The study would cost about $100,000, said DART board member Ralph Rodriguez, who observed the meeting from the audience.
East Mockingbird, a community of about 950 homes, covers the area north of Mockingbird Road and east of Abrams Road to the Blanton Gardens retirement home. The neighborhood association organized about eight months ago, according to the association officer Allen Gwinn.
DART board vice chair Michael Campbell said DART is examining an option to buy 40 rail diesel cars, or RDCs, from a Toronto company. They could serve commuter in the interim until DART finishes its light rail system in 10 to 12 years.
Commuter rail would run every 30 minutes during morning and evening rush hours, the officials said. Residents angrily raised concerns about noise, safety and the potential negative effect on property values.
“I’ve not heard of one case where property values have diminished because of the presence of transit. In many cases it has increased,” Campbell said.
He said the diesel cars could be electrified to provide “pollution-free power” and berms, fences and sound walls along the tracks would also help resolve noise and safety issues.
But one woman responded: “Those people have not had trains running through their back yards. A couple of trains a day are OK. But every 30 minutes?”
Several residents said they wanted rail to stay completely out of their neighborhood.
Somebody had to step up and play the tough guy role for DART, and burly Tony Venturato, DART’s assistant executive director, took that role:
“You may have an opposition to having rail at all,” Venturato told the residents, “but a very strong component is expecting it to come their way. Rather than say, ‘How do we stop this thing?’, tell us what would be acceptable for you if we do it?”
Carapetyan stood up to make his speech then, scolding residents for their uninformed, “knee-jerk reaction” against rail. He said in his travels across the country and to London, he’d witnessed effective rail systems.
Venturato further stressed every light rail system installed in the last 20 years had raised property values in neighborhoods.
Outside the auditorium, resident Jennifer Griffin thanked Carapetyan for speaking up. “If we don’t get mass transit in this area we’re gonna dwindle and die,” she said.
Carapetyan, a gleam in his eye, said he and his two children loved watching the old MKT rail cars ride the tracks behind his house. The cars ride the tracks behind his house. The cars are parked and rusting now.
“We loved it. We loved the noise and everything,” he said.
But Don Williams, a real estate salesman and investment analyst who contradicted Venturato’s claims about improved property values, took Carapetyan aside and tried to talk sense to him about DART.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” Williams said. “Listen, they’re going to push something through, and it’s going to diminish the value of residential property.
“Commercial value will be enhanced somewhere down the road. Hell, there’s money to be made on this deal, Pete. Think about it.”