The city of Ramsey's newly minted Northstar Commuter Rail station is spurring housing starts and creating some new buzz around the city's COR development project.

The City Council this month approved the construction of 50 affordable townhouse rentals adjacent to the COR. The townhouses will be a half-mile from the Northstar station, which opened in November. The proximity of the station helped entice the developer, according to city staff.

Since the Northstar station opened, the city has fielded an influx of inquiries from developers about the COR and surrounding area, said Tim Gladhill, Ramsey's development services manager. The Northstar line carries riders from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis.

"That is part of the attraction of living there. You are close to the rail," said Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen. "That's why we worked so hard to get the rail station. I think it's spurring interest."

The "Seasons of Ramsey" townhouse project, coupled with the ongoing construction of 230 high-end apartments in the COR development, is bolstering the number of housing starts around the rail station. The city saw 295 housing starts in 2012, compared with 23 in 2011. Townhouse development especially lagged during the economic downturn. The city saw only eight townhouses built in the past four years.

"It really paints a picture [that] things are really improving. Housing starts are up. Valuations are up. Foreclosures are down. We surveyed business, and 70 percent said they have a positive or a very positive outlook," Strommen said. "It's a more positive trend and sentiment than we've seen in the last couple of years."

There was no public comment and little discussion before the council approved the Seasons of Ramsey development.

For the project, St. Cloud-based Podawiltz Development Corp. has acquired a tax credit from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which helps developers who invest in affordable rental housing. Developer Mike Podawiltz told the council, "We look forward to being good corporate citizens." He declined to discuss the project with the Star Tribune.

Seasons includes three-story townhouses located on 8 acres at the intersection of Bunker Lake Boulevard and Town Center Drive. The developer plans to start construction this month, Gladhill said.

City officials hope the uptick in housing development is a sign of economic recovery for the community and for the COR development, the successor to the ill-fated Ramsey Town Center project. In 2009, the city paid $6.75 million to buy 150 acres of vacant land along Hwy. 10 after the collapse of the Town Center project.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804