For Mayor Stan Suedkamp, the tiny mobile home city of Landfall is a little-known — and unusually affordable — gem in Washington County that will only get better when mass transit comes to town.
In 2024, the Gold Line bus rapid transit (BRT) line will begin serving the community of some 742 residents, many of whom are families earning modest wages, or retirees on a fixed income. Suedkamp wants to keep his community accessible to those who can’t afford the skyrocketing rents and home prices that now define the Twin Cities burgeoning real estate market.
“We are a unique little owner-occupied piece of property in the middle of these rapidly growing suburbs, and now we’re getting an additional amenity with the bus rapid transit,” he said.
Others in the pleasant lakeside community say they’ll wait to see how the line plays out once it begins service, although two open houses held earlier this month were well-attended. Another open house is planned for Tuesday, and Metro Transit representatives will attend community events, such as National Night Out and the Washington County Fair, to spread the word and gather input about the Gold Line.
Plans call for the Gold Line to link Union Depot in downtown St. Paul to Woodbury, with stops in the Capital City’s East Side, Maplewood, Oakdale and near Landfall — mostly skimming the northern flank of Interstate 94.
Bus rapid transit service is similar in some ways to light rail, but with a price tag of $420 million, it will be built for a fraction of the cost. Passengers pay before boarding and wait for more-frequent service in shelters that are heated in winter, brightly lit and more secure than ordinary bus stops.
While the Gold Line will technically be the metro area’s third bus rapid transit project behind the Red and Orange lines, it’s unusual because much of its route is slated to travel in dedicated lanes. In Landfall, however, it will trundle down Hudson Road in mixed traffic.
“I don’t think I’ll use it because I need my car for work,” Landfall resident Hugo Morales said one recent afternoon. “But I know someone who uses the bus, and she might use it.”
The Metro Transit bus currently serving Landfall connects to Maplewood Mall to the north and the Sun Ray shopping center just west of town. But service is fairly infrequent, especially on nights and weekends.
“We currently have a bus service that picks people up here, but then you have to make a connection to make a connection to make a connection to get anywhere,” Suedkamp said.
Edward Goetz, director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota, said people who depend on transit probably rule out living Landfall because bus service is a bit infrequent.
“If enhanced transit is built nearby, it may make the place a little more accessible,” he added. “In the future, you may have potential residents moving in who don’t have an automobile.”
Opportunities to develop
The prospect of new transit projects coming to communities often causes transit planners and real estate developers to salivate at the prospect of “transit-oriented development.”
Landfall is unusual because it’s essentially built out at 300 mobile homes, with all but two occupied. There are two commercial properties within city borders along Hudson Road, home to Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycle dealerships, and a few other businesses.
Regarding possible development, “it’s up to those business owners to do what they want,” said Christine Beckwith, Gold Line project manager. “They may see opportunities in the future to do something with their space. We’ve told them they could get approached by developers.”
Tom Giannetti, owner of St. Paul Harley-Davidson, says the promise of real estate development is part of the “sales pitch” planners use to gin up support for expensive public transit projects.
“They’re betting a lot of money on it,” he said. “I’m not a real believer myself, I don’t necessarily buy into everything they say [the Gold Line] will do. I think some money should go into repairing roads.”
Giannetti, who serves on a Gold Line advisory committee, doesn’t expect the line to boost his business. “I don’t think I’ve ever sold a motorcycle to someone who got off a bus,” he said.
Fear of displacement
The Gold Line has some residents fearing the whole city will be bought out by private developers, or that rents will rise. This comes after the widely publicized sale last year of the Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony, which displaced nearly 100 households.
But mobile home parks like Lowry Grove are privately owned and are vulnerable to redevelopment in a hot real estate market. In contrast, Landfall is owned by Washington County, an arrangement that will end by early 2024 when the city will take over. But either way, “the City Council will not allow [a sale or hefty rent hike],” Suedkamp said.
“Everyone is looking for this to be a mobile home park in perpetuity,” he said. “We work very hard to keep rents low. That’s important to us.”
The maximum income permitted for a family of four in Landfall is $47,000 a year. Residents own their mobile homes, but pay $275 to $340 a month to cover rent and some utilities.
“Nobody’s really talking about it,” said Jeff Altendorfer, a 20-year Landfall resident, when asked about the Gold Line. “If people who don’t drive have more options it will be better for them. I don’t think I’ll take it.”
Altendorfer was fishing one morning last week at the Landfall dock on Tanners Lake, which borders the city’s west side.
“Until they break ground and start digging, you won’t hear anything,” he added as he heartily cast his line.