Woodbury opens farmland to residential development

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 10:17 PM

Builders are eager to put the recession behind them.

Years after the recession's big chill slowed housing development in Woodbury to a crawl, the pace will quicken with the city's approval of a plan expected to add 6,000 new homes in the coming decade.

Developers, seeing an economy on the mend and pent-up demand, are ready to roll.

The first portion of more than 2,100 acres of mostly open farmland is now open for preliminary platting following a unanimous decision last week by the Woodbury City Council. The land is surrounded on three sides by the new East Ridge High School in the south part of the city,

The decision means developers can start submitting their plans to the city, and a vision that has been several years in the making -- shaped by hard economic lessons -- will start becoming a reality.

Ryland Homes was among the first in line, submitting a proposal the day after the council's decision to start breaking ground next spring on a 40-acre development that will include 97 single-family homes, said Mike DeVoe, Ryland's division president.

"We've been anxious to get going for a while," DeVoe said. Ryland has built several housing tracts in Woodbury. The latest, to be called Bailey Lake, will be located at the gateway of this new development.

Mario Cocchiarella, owner of Maplewood Development and Construction, will likely follow Ryland. His company also owns land in the development area. "We're really ready to go right now, and we plan on making a submission here fairly quickly," he said. Builders have already shown strong interest in the site.

"The market's been tough, but Woodbury's always been a great place," DeVoe said. Even through the recent downturn, buyers have remained attracted to its prime location, quality schools, good roads and easy access to freeways and jobs, he said.

Still, the number of lots available for development in Woodbury has been creeping steadily downward, DeVoe said. In fact, in the third quarter of this year, Woodbury had the second-lowest lot inventory in the Twin Cities area (only Plymouth's was lower). The city had a 15-month supply available (666 lots), but in a normal market, a three-year supply is desirable.

But part of the city's challenge in timing for this major development has been trying to figure out what the "new normal" is, said Janelle Schmitz, Woodbury's planning and economic development manager.

From the city's perspective, she said, the decision to open up land for development is a high-stakes balancing act. If land is opened too far ahead of the market, the city's costs of road, sewer and other improvements to accommodate the growth go for naught; but if the market wave is missed, developers move on to the next community and the city loses an opportunity to bolster its tax base.

"The development community is ready to go," said Schmitz, who expects a slow start to construction next year, but sees it ramping up noticeably in 2014.

The post-recession housing market will determine how the development unfolds in the coming decade, Schmitz added. The acreage will open in three distinct phases as conditions dictate.

The first phase, the one now open and called Fields of Woodbury by the city, comprises 611 acres. The second phase, 651 acres, will also include a shopping area in the southwest corner of the intersection of Radio Drive and Bailey Road and a smaller commercial center at Woodbury Drive and Dale Road. The final phase is nearly 950 acres.

The slow housing market afforded the city ample time to carefully lay out its plans for the new development, Schmitz said, which involved months of planning by advisory groups, the city's Economic Development Authority, its Planning Commission and City Council.

That same slow economy helped keep bids low on a major sewer project that was mostly completed earlier this year to accommodate the new housing.

Though the math says 6,000 housing units in 10 years comes to 600 homes a year, Schmitz said the true annual growth won't work out so neatly. The first years, she anticipates about 300 a year, then reaching higher levels as the economy gathers steam.

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson

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