Blaine led Twin Cities suburbs in population growth in the past two years, gaining 3,013 residents to break the 60,000 mark.

The fourth-ring, developing suburb bucked a recent trend of more people choosing to live in the two central cities or in closer-in, developed suburbs.

Only Minneapolis, which added 9,430 residents, and St. Paul, which added 4,202, gained more residents than Blaine from 2010 to 2012, said a recent report from the Metropolitan Council.

Fully developed cities, including the two core cities and Bloomington, accounted for 58 percent of population growth in the two-year period, said Todd Graham, a Met Council demographer. Bloomington added 2,739 residents, just behind Blaine.

Blaine’s growth, not without some friction, is based on several factors. One is location: The Anoka County city is only 25 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Another is having a large inventory of platted lots available for a variety of home styles, said Community Development Director Bryan Schafer.

He noted that permits issued for new housing have been growing every year since they drooped to 283 in 2009, the lowest in 15 years. The peak was 1,089 permits in 2004.

Last year, 399 permits were issued, and Schafer expects another 400 this year — mostly for single-family homes ranging from the upper-$200,000 prices to more than $500,000.

He said that a senior housing project has been approved and that construction may start on it next year. The city also has four mobile home parks.

Schafer expects the additional homes to “bring another wave of retail.” A new Wal-Mart opened in August on Hwy. 65.

Other contributors

Amenities and diversity are also growth factors.

“People look at parks, shopping and amenities, and we stack up pretty well,” Schafer said. The city has several subdivisions built around man-made lakes, a TPC Twin Cities golf course designed by Arnold Palmer and the National Sports Center, which boasts 52 athletic fields, eight ice hockey sheets, an all-wood cycling velodrome and more.

“I like to think that we do things right here. We’ve got a lot of parks, good schools and 65 miles of bike trails. It’s just become a nice place to live,” said Mayor Tom Ryan, a City Council member for 28 years.

Immigrants also have contributed to Blaine’s population growth. U.S. Census surveys estimated Blaine had about 9 percent foreign-born residents in 2011. The city includes Croatians, a Somali community and other groups, Ryan said.

Blaine will have its fourth annual ethnic festival this fall. Ryan said some immigrants wear native costumes, do skits and dances and bring ethnic foods to the festival. It also attracts ethnic restaurant vendors from the north metro area.

Demographer Graham said that because housing starts were at historic lows from 2007 to 2012, it’s not clear whether developing cities will resume leading population growth in the seven-county area, as they did from 2005 to 2010. In the past two years, while fully developed cities were accounting for 58 percent of the Twin Cities’ population growth, developing suburbs accounted for 38 percent and rural communities 4 percent.

The Met Council defines fully developed cities as those having 85 percent or more of their land developed. Developing cities are those having less than that and having sewer and other urban services available or expected soon.

Graham said in a Met Council news release this summer that housing market research in the Twin Cities and elsewhere shows “greater interest in both urban living and rental housing. … Some of this may be due to lingering economic concerns and home buyers’ cautiousness. But longer-term, there is a real shift in residential preferences. Both baby boomers and newly independent millennials are placing greater value on central locations and urban amenities.”

Recent residential development in Minneapolis supports the housing preference shift. The city, with a population of 392,000, led the state in new housing additions from 2010 to 2012.