The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and surrounding metro region, are experiencing a surge in large public transit projects, most notably the long-awaited Southwest Light Rail Line (SWLRT), which extends the existing Green Line from Minneapolis to the southwest suburbs, terminating in Eden Prairie, MN. In addition to light rail, several other fixed transit ways are being constructed or are in the planning stage.

What does this mean for a property owner with land potentially in the path of any work required to construct a new transit corridor? Uncertainty, confusion, frustration, anger and anxiety are just a few of the emotions that landowners, including business owners, experience when they discover their property may be taken through a future condemnation action. The consequence could be to force a wholesale relocation of a business and its employees to an unknown new location, with all the risks associated with such a move.

The public agencies do a reasonably good job of providing base-level information about a major public project, including broad estimates of timing, and SWLRT is no exception. However, when it comes to the specific project location, impact, land payments, relocation and especially timing, such agencies often themselves have no answers on which to base a plan.

In the case of SWLRT, the involved public agencies and their hired contractors have been waiting literally years to throw the switch and get started on land acquisition and construction of the new approximately 15-mile corridor.

The “promised” start date has been a moving target, frustrating the planning efforts of affected parties. This means landowners and business owners have been riding a roller coaster of emotions as they anticipate a firm start date. The practical consequence of this uncertainty is that an affected business owner might be forced to hedge a bet and speculate about a new location, sometimes even committing to buy land or another building for a future relocation if and when it occurs.

This means they are forced to expend time and precious capital to research new location options, evaluate the value of their existing property and make concrete plans for the future. The alternative is not a good choice either: delaying a search process to secure a new business home could place an affected business at risk of losing its current home without having secured an acceptable replacement.

For those with special site needs, such as extended parking or outside storage, the challenge to find a location is further frustrated by municipal zoning restrictions affecting such uses. The prudent step is to initiate the planning process presuming the outcome and secure as much lead time as possible before making a hard commitment to the new location. If you have a particular urgency to act, the Metropolitan Council has been cooperative in confirming eligibility for relocation assistance ahead of formal condemnation proceedings.