Development dividends are beginning to appear along the $320 million Northstar commuter rail line nearing its fourth anniversary in the north metro area.

Apartments, townhouses, businesses and more are sprouting around the six Northstar stations from Fridley to Big Lake.

Some of the most notable recent developments on the railway to Minneapolis are in Fridley, Big Lake, Elk River and Ramsey, where the newest $13 million station opened last November.

The Ramsey station is connected to a 230-unit upscale apartment complex that is more than half open. Residents can walk under cover through an attached parking ramp and skyway to the station in the city’s developing downtown, nicknamed COR.

Also under construction is a 50-townhome affordable housing project about half a mile north of the station, said Tim Gladhill, development services manager for Ramsey.

Dave and Donna Heinrich are among about 30 tenants who have leased apartments in Residence at the COR. The empty-nesters decided to jettison snow shoveling and mowing as they downsized from a four-bedroom home in Ramsey. Their one-bedroom apartment is close to their church and Donna’s job. And by rail, they can conveniently travel to Twins games at Target Field, the airport and the Mall of America, Heinrich said. He said the apartment managers gave them a $50 credit on a Go Card to ride the Northstar.

“We thought we can hop the train and go downtown. My wife wants to go to Ikea and the Mall of America,” said Heinrich, 59, who has retired from his Realtor’s job. He said he plans to ride the train to the Fridley station, not far from Redeemer Church, where he has a part-time internship while pursuing a master’s degree.

The Northstar plays a significant role in city development, especially the two new housing projects, said Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen. “Having a transportion option for people who are commuting is really important.”

Projects in Fridley

A developer has plans for a mixed business and residential project on East River Road, about half a mile south of the city’s Northstar Station.

Developer John Allen, of Industrial Equities, won final approval this summer from the Fridley City Council for a 134,000-square-foot office, showroom and warehouse building on a 27-acre site along the Northstar tracks. Groundbreaking is set for this fall, and future phases include a 120-unit apartment building, said Scott Hickok, community development director.

“We are pretty darn excited about it,” Hickok said.

Hickok noted that Allen’s Riverside Corporate Centre is part of a transit-oriented tax increment financing district. That means the city can use new taxes generated for district infrastructure, such as its plan to extend 57th Avenue from Main Street, under the railroad tracks, past Riverside Centre to East River Road.

Another big housing project is brewing along University Avenue about five blocks east of the Northstar Station.

The city Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) is negotiating with Trident Development of St. Cloud, which wants to buy a three-block strip the city has spent about $5 million buying and clearing since 2006, said Paul Bolin, HRA assistant executive director.

“They are looking at market rate, upscale rental units with brick and stone finishes” for several, multifloor buildings, Bolin said. He said the city has just begun working on an agreement that would give Trident exclusive development rights as it seeks financing and prepares plans.

“We want a project that makes a real statement and enhances Fridley’s image along University Avenue,” Bolin said.

Apartments in Big Lake

Construction is booming around the Northstar Station at the west end of the 40-mile-line in Big Lake.

The $3.9 million Crossings of Big Lake, a 33-unit apartment complex, was built across the street from the Northstar platform last year and is fully occupied, said Big Lake Administrator Todd Bodem. A 20-unit, affordable housing building for seniors is going up just west of the Crossings.

The 37-unit Northern Star apartments are being built in the transit tax increment district, and the city will use about $400,000 in new taxes to pay for an underground parking area for the $3 million building, Bodem said. If the three-story building fills up, the developer plans another 37-unit building.

A strip mall for nine stores is almost complete about a quarter-mile from the station, and Klein Bank just finished a new building within view of the station, Bodem said.

Elsewhere, Elk River has added two apartment buildings, both full, since word of the coming Northstar got out in 2003, said Development Director Jeremy Barnhart. One is a 60-unit senior cooperative. The other is 53-unit Elk River Station Apartments, which was full when it opened about two years ago with affordable and market rate housing.

The Station Apartments developer plans to erect another 53-unit building next year by the station, Barnhart said. He noted the city has expanded its nearby industrial park, where Preferred Powder Coating of Rogers plans to break ground this fall on a $6 million plant, with city financial assistance. The business will bring 24 jobs from its old plant and add eight new jobs, he said.