Map Monday: Two Minnesota Cities Are About To Swap Borders

On the week of October 19th, and 20th, the city councils of Hopkins and Saint Louis Park voted to do something exceedingly rare in Minnesota. The two city councils voted to go through with redrawing the city borders, annexing land from the other city. On paper, initially, Hopkins comes out on top gaining about 3 additional acres and about $4.5 M in additional tax base. I posted this map to the forums a few weeks back.

Future Borders of Hopkins and Saint Louis Park

Hopkins-SLP new borders


There are numerous examples of cities annexing land from townships. Rogers has been annexing pieces of Hassan Township, for example. City-City annexations though? In the little research, reading, and listening about this, no one I came across can think of a time this happened last.

So how did this come to pass?

In the late 90s, Japs-Olson was lured to Saint Louis Park from Minneapolis with the prospect of a very large industrial parcel that had sat vacant. Today, Japs-Olson’s needs are outgrowing this space, it needs more. The company bought an industrial property across Meadowbrook Road, once filled by an ApplianceSmart (which relocated to Hopkins), and planned to demolish it for employee parking while building the production facility expansion on the existing employee parking at the west of the main facility.

Japs-Olson area


The company approached Hopkins for permits to build on a small portion of their block that sits in Hopkins city limits and was denied by Hopkins. Hopkins rationale is that the former industrial area within Hopkins has been guided in their comprehensive plan for business park, away from industrial. Allowing Japs-Olson to expand into Hopkins with an industrial use would go against that city’s comprehensive plan to deemphasize industrial use in this corner of the city. Hopkins would have needed to re-zone back industrial. This wasn’t going to happen.

The company then approached Saint Louis Park for help. Turns out Minnesota’s process for cities to change their borders with another city is brief and quick. Simplifying drastically here: Identify the parcels, both cities vote, hand it to a judge, and wait a couple months (more or less).

Saint Louis Park city staff approached Hopkins city staff with the offer of having Hopkins annex industrial properties (which Hopkins would then zone business park) in exchange for Saint Louis Park annexing the property Japs-Olson needed for their expansion. Hopkins was offered land of greater value than Saint Louis Park would acquire from Hopkins because the Japs-Olson expansion is expected to be worth far more once it gets built.

As the city staff of Hopkins stated during the council meeting, it is easy to see this border change as a “win-win-win”.

Side-note for the curious: that odd triangular-crescent wedge parcel was a former rail spur to the old industrial buildings. It has no connection to any street, and the rails were long ago ripped out, so it is considered to have marginal value. It was included in the swap to make any potential future redevelopment more valuable. It also makes the future city boundaries even stranger.


The Japs-Olson proposed production facility expansion

Japs-Olson addition

I think we could even call this a “win-win-win-win”.

The Minnehaha Creek is gaining out of this whole exchange and expansion, too. Japs-Olson needs Minnehaha Creek Watershed District approvals for their expansion. Japs-Olson’s new parking lot is designed with modern stormwater management features, plus the company gave 4 acres to expand the Minnehaha Creek Greenway. What was once mostly impervious surface right up to the edge of a swamp along the east side of the future employee parking (that’s how cities did development in the 1940s and 1950s) will become restored public green space, with a future trail linking the Greenway boardwalks along the creek down to the sidewalk along Excelsior Blvd.

The construction for the new employee parking lot and stormwater management is underway right now.

What’s Next?

The city councils have voted and it has been submitted to a judge. Everyone is waiting.

But the next steps are where the heavy work happens. Comprehensive plans for each city will need updating. Map companies and government agencies will all need to update their maps and GIS shape files. Legal addresses for properties need updating.

Eric Anondson

About Eric Anondson

Born in St. Louis Park and lived there nearly 28 years but has been living in Hopkins since 2008. Eric's hopped around two years or so at a time in Loring Park, Laurel Village, Snellby, Whittier, and Golden Valley. He works in downtown Minneapolis. On Twitter as @xeoth.

14 thoughts on “Map Monday: Two Minnesota Cities Are About To Swap Borders

  1. Andrew B

    Interesting article! That it’s easier to change city boundaries than update a planning document is not what I would have expected.

  2. Monte Castleman

    It’s happened twice (1990 and 2013) where Lake Elmo landowners unhappy with the city’s anti-growth polices got their land detached from the city without the city’s consent.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      What city did the homeowners change to? Or did they leave the city and join the township? Not sure that is city-to-city border change though.

      1. Monte Castleman

        The first case was a city to city exchange, where the properties were forcibly detached from Lake Elmo and attached to Oakdale. The second case the properties are, for now, part of Stillwater Township until Oak Park Heights runs utilities to the area.

      1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

        When did Edina and Bloomington annex from each other?

        I think the mutual annexation is what makes this different than the homeowners carving their property off the city in the Lake Elmo cases.

        You know, it is odd that homeowners can carve themselves off cities far easier than they can carve off from a school district.

        1. Mike

          Cities like to present things like it is easy to change city boundaries, but it isn’t quite as it appears. There are MN statutes regarding the legality to all boundary changes, and cities cannot just decide where the boundaries are based on a city council vote. Similarly, homeowners cannot just decide to be part of a city or a township, but they can petition for change based on reason. For example, in small towns where a farmer might be farming land but is technically inside city limits, they can petition for detachment because they meet the requirement that the land must be agricultural in nature. So, a homeowner cannot just say “I’m a part of the township now” and then pay less taxes and still get city services. All changes are looked at by an administrative judge and every affected land owner has a chance to voice their opinion regarding boundary changes.

  3. Mike

    I maintain the GIS data for city boundaries for MnDOT and other state agencies that is available here:

    The municipal boundary adjustment unit are the ones that approve boundary changes, all changes since 1958 can be researched here:

    To get some definitions established, annexation is when a city takes in land, detachment is when it gives away land. In this case, it is a concurrent annexation/detachment since it’s going from city to city, vs city to township. It is more rare, but not uncommon that this happens. Off the top of my head, this happens about 5 times a year on average. To put things into perspective, overall about 150-300 city boundary changes happen per year.

    I’d be happy to answer any questions posted here or via the contact information found in the metadata on the first link above.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      I love that has people like you reading with your expertise to bring. Its why I love reading the comments here but rarely anywhere else. 🙂

      1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

        Digging through the data on the second link, I’ve gone back about 15 years now and have yet to see what makes this novel. Two cities mutually annexing from the other at the same time. Lots of concurrent annexation/detachments of one city to the other. Or instances of cities getting gobbled up one parcel after another, like Gem Lake into Vadnais Heights.

        Seems where two cities trade parcels with the other is novel.

      2. Andrew

        Just to confirm that folks working with these topics professionally read, I too am a daily visitor to your fine website. And I am the application developer / server administrator for both of the websites which Mike cites…

  4. s Campbell

    The Edina/Bloomington swap that I recall was in 1999, where a part of what was then the Radisson South hotel moved out of Edina and into Bloomington in exchange for some undeveloped land further west. Edina was dry at the time, so room service liquor delivery depended on whether you room was on the North or South side of the border.

    1. Ben Franske

      I think that the Radison property swap was actually done in summer of 1981. There have been a couple more Bloomington/Edina border adjustments including one in 1999 but that was for property near 169 and 494.

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