BLANK CANVASS: Residents living near the proposed Expo Light Rail maintenance yard on Stewart Street are envisioning mixed-use development and community gardens to fill a buffer zone between them and trains. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY YARDS — Residents living near the proposed Exposition Light Rail Line maintenance yard on Thursday had a rare opportunity to weigh in on what they want to see built in a roughly 2-acre buffer zone meant to shield them from noise made by trains.

Representatives from the Metro Transit Authority, Exposition Construction Authority and City Hall gathered at the City Yards to hear from Pico Neighborhood residents, some of whom feel the yard should be located elsewhere given that the area is already home to the two waste transfer stations and the 10 Freeway.

The controversial maintenance yard will be located north of Exposition Boulevard and east of Stewart Street. It incorporates the former Verizon building, and is bounded on the west by a parking lot and commercial buildings to the north.

The buffer zone was put into the final environmental impact report for the second phase of the Exposition Light Rail project, which will extend light rail from Culver City to its termination in Downtown Santa Monica.

It’s meant to cut down on noise from the maintenance yard, and potentially make room for other improvements to the community like gardens or small shops.

“What we wanted to do here is the initial visioning meeting on how the city will use this buffer,” said Kate Vernez, assistant to the City Manager. “It will help jump-start our planning.”

Community leaders stressed patience, noting that the design process is still in its infancy, and that officials would not have good answers for questions about specific details of the project.

“Yes, we’re empowered to create and push through, but we don’t have anything concrete yet,” said Ana G. Jara, a Pico Neighborhood Association board member.

The meeting represented the earliest stages of the design phase of the maintenance yard.

In fact, Expo has yet to hire a designer for the project, although it expects that the Maintenance Design Group will be on board by mid-May. That process will be entirely separate from the design of the rest of Phase 2, which was awarded to design-build team Skansa/Rados in March.

What Expo knows: The $8 million maintenance facility will include a two-story administrative building, enclosed train washing centers, equipment storage and “light repair.”

Light repair includes basic maintenance such as switching light bulbs and replacing brake pads. Heavy repairs and paint jobs will be done at other maintenance facilities.

There will also be an 8- to 12-foot-tall wall encircling the facility to block noise from the maintenance yard. The light rail trains are approximately 12 feet tall.

A power generator will be included in the design, although it will be placed far from homes, said Gabrielle Collins, spokeswoman for Expo.

Finally, 65 employee parking spaces will sit on the western side of the maintenance yard.

Community members split up into five groups, each manned by a facilitator, to jot down ideas and notes for the buffer zone.

One major focus seemed to be using the space to provide benefits to the community that wouldn’t result in outsiders flocking to the new development, but would offset the burden of playing host to the maintenance yard.

“The buffer zone should raise property values to make up for what the maintenance yard is taking away,” said resident Peter Path.

Ideas ranged from a mini-Main Street, populated by mixed use shops, cafes and potentially artists’ lofts, to a total rejection of anything that resembled development.

One team wanted to develop the land on a “pay as you go” basis, beginning with the $2 million that City Hall has agreed to put up for the project and creating another pool of funds using fees placed on developers.

Another meeting will be held in June once the design firm comes on board officially, Vernez said.

“It’s very concrete things that we have to get to next,” Vernez said.

If all goes according to schedule, the second phase of the Exposition Light Rail line will arrive in Santa Monica in 2015. The first phase is 90 percent complete, and currently being tested, Collins said.

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