Insult added to injury for Green Line neighbors

When the Green Line light rail project started, businesses and property owners took a serious hit. Few drivers were willing to put up with this:

Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

The strongest survived and now they’re getting big bills for “road improvements” from St. Paul, KSTP says.

Assessments against property owners amount to between $100 and $37,000, the TV station reports.

City council members say the property owners are not paying anything different than other property owners in St. Paul when they have their streets completely rebuilt.

But, the business owners we talked to along the Green Line tell us they had no choice in this decision and were not in favor of the Central Corridor to begin. Now they say they feel, as Midas owner Joe Stranik says, “like this is taxation without representation.” Stranik had no idea his assessment is listed at $13,000 for the one-time fee until we told him.

Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009.

  • Robert Moffitt

    You did it right, Bob. I believe that KSTP-TV studio is located (just barely) on the Minneapolis side of the border, so this assessment would not apply to them. But for the sake of full disclosure, and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, they should have said that in their story.

  • Gary F

    Hey businesses in the SW metro and Mpls, here is what’s coming!

  • Robert Moffitt

    “Midas owner Joe Stranik says, ‘like this is taxation without representation.’”
    And then, in the same story, we meet the elected representatives for the businesses getting the assessments.

    • Quickly becoming one of my favorite quotes. The more often you see it, the less the person using it knows what it means.

      • I just wish people could make up their mind on LRT . When the time issue was a big deal, people said “it’s not about transportation, it’s about economic development.” Then we find businesses are getting hammered with assessments.

        • jon

          It’s not about transportation, or economic development…
          I suspect it is about rewarding construction companies that hired nephews of elected officials…

        • Government assessments are part of living “on the grid.”

          I’m going to have to pay several thousand dollars in assessments for upgrades made to the sidewalk in front of my home.

          Do I bitch about it? A little, but I also recognize that it is part of the price of living where I live.

          • The difference would be if you had a perfectly fine sidewalk, then the city came and tore it up and put down another one and called it an improvement. If you’re assessed for improvements, shouldn’t the improvement be quantifiable?

            Clearly it’s NOT taxation without representation.

            But there is certainly a debate to be had regarding assessments and what constitutes an improvement as more and more communities are turning to assessments.

            In my neck of the woods, the city theorizes that the people who pay for improvements are the ones who benefit from them — usually homeowners who live in a neighborhood. What if your street is improved but you don’t have a car? What if you have three cars? Etc.

            There’s some interesting issues with the practice.

          • I had a perfectly fine (in my opinion) alley that the city recently resurfaced because “it was scheduled” and I will be paying an assessment for. But I can’t deny the resurfaced alley IS better. University Ave. is also better now.

          • David

            Same thing with my St Paul side street.

          • Jack

            Gentrification. If you can’t get them to move out then drain their bank account, right?
            About street repairs; what if St. Paul Sewer and Sanitation are responsible for the pavement problems? or water? or were they not properly paved to begin with? A road a block or 2 from where I live underwent some severe pothole damage from last winter that stretched for 2 blocks and then ended. This was just bizarre and severe take-out-your-tires kind of damage to the street. It was hard to believe that all the damage happened in one season of expansion and contraction.

          • And yet, it did happen.

          • University Avenue was “perfectly fine?”

            I beg to differ (but see your point).

          • James Galand Warden

            If that really is an apt comparison, then it violates state law. To quote the House Research Department: “The assessment amount charged to the property cannot exceed the amount by which the property benefits from the improvement, as measured by the increase in the market value of the land due to the improvement.” So property owners could challenge this if they don’t think the benefit of the project they were charged for (ie. the street improvement, not the light rail) was as great as the assessment. I’m honestly not sure how well that reflects the situation, though, since we’d have to know the condition of the road beforehand and how it affect property values. http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/specasmt.pdf

          • It does the raise the question of how the addition of light rail benefits a muffler shop when the number of cars that can travel to a business is reduced.

            OTOH, judging by my travels over Saint Paul streets, there aren’t many business who have to worry about being charged for improved streets.

          • James Galand Warden

            Would that matter for the assessments? It was my impression from the story that the businesses were being assessed for the road improvements. Thus, the property value increase from the road improvements had to equal the value of the assessment. The property value increase from the LRT wouldn’t matter since they didn’t fund it through assessments. Admittedly, teasing that out would be hard.

          • My question would be improvements over what? The condition of the road before light rail, or the condition of the road because of light rail construction?

          • >>OTOH, judging by my travels over Saint Paul streets, there aren’t many business who have to worry about being charged for improved streets.<<

            Oh SNAP!

            /the sound your axle makes when driving in St. Paul.

          • rst1317

            “What if your street is improved but you don’t have a car? What if you have three cars? Etc.” ~Bob Collins

            Those are some good points. Their is a danger, especially with larger cities, that assessments are used to raise taxes without, well, raising taxes.

            As for the questions I quoted, one thing we need to keep in mind is that local streets have to exist for to provide a few services that we consider public goods and quasi-public goods like ambulance service, garbage pick up, school buses, bus transit and police. Regardless of how many vehicles a residential property own has, for local streets it’s pretty much a wash whether they have zero or three cars.

        • rst1317

          Mr. Collins, I don’t know why you’d expect the die hard proponents to “make up their mind”. They’re dedicated to their ideology. They will always have ways of rationalizing doing this sort of thing.

    • Oh look, there is an actual procedure for approving assessments and notifying and hearing citizens concerns about said assessments:

      http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=3964

  • KTN

    Of course it helps to read what they are being taxed for – and in a similar fashion here in Mpls, if the city has to fix a sidewalk in front of your house, you have to pay an assessment. Is that fair, not sure, but it is equitable, since all homeowners are subject to the same thing. Kind of like the businesses along the light rail. A misinterpretation of the constitution notwithstanding, this is not taxation without representation, it is merely an assessment.

    • Ha! We cross-posted about Minneapolis sidewalk assessments.

  • Nicholas Kraemer

    Better that the people/businesses who might derive some benefit out of this pay it versus adding the bill to the hundreds of millions of dollars that those of us who will never get anything out of the line. Besides, businesses that suffered financial harm from the construction were eligible for cash payouts.

    • Jack

      Whatever helps you sleep at night…

      • Nicholas Kraemer

        You seemed confused. I did not advocate or support the construction of the Green Line; ergo I don’t feel responsible for this situation. Furthermore, as a point of order, my apathy to this situation will benefit these businesses exactly as much as the empathy and supportive blog post comments made by other people posting here – i.e. not at all.

        • Jack

          My comment was a general statement regarding your comment: “Besides, businesses that suffered financial harm from the construction were eligible for cash payouts.”

          and even with Bob’s added comment, “I don’t think there were cash payouts. I think there were mitigation loans.”

          Does anyone really know? It appears to me that these promises made to business owners are just a bunch of lovely sentiments and nothing is truly done for those in jeopardy.

          • Nicholas Kraemer

            Does anyone “really know” what? Who was paid and how much? Yes, we do know that. I put a link at the end of this comment. On that site you can access a PDF that shows exactly who got how much. I appreciate you going with your feelings and instincts here, your heart is in the right place, but the facts are out there and I think you could dig a little before having a go at me. http://watchdog.org/131679/mn-businesses-pay-price-light-rail-line-despite-free-taxpayer-loans/

          • Jack

            Again, the comment wasn’t aimed at you, it was a general statement about how these things are handled; a disingenuous excuse, ‘business is business’ .

    • I don’t think there were cash payouts. I think there were mitigation loans.

      • Nicholas Kraemer

        They were forgiveable loans. The terms make them seem, to me, to be de facto cash payouts. Thank you for clarifying this point.

  • Gary Stevens

    Troll so hard

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Whether or not they wanted or supported the train is sorta irrelevant.

  • elarsson

    So apparently the “cost” of the LRT that we hear about all the time, is not the total cost. How much do the governments sink into “improvements” and traffic management and administrative costs that are hidden behind the two billion “on paper?”