The far western suburb of Hanover straddles a river, two counties and a blend of identities.
The town is rural and suburban, pastoral and industrial, historic and new. Once on the verge of explosive growth, its current state is now balanced, residents say.
"The problems with the housing market gave us a chance to slow down a bit and make sure the community was the way we wanted it to be," said Jim Hennessey, a retired Honeywell executive who has lived in Hanover for more than a decade.
Back in 1999, Hanover, which sits on the border of Hennepin and Wright counties, had no stoplights, three bars and restaurants with limited meals. Now there's a new liquor store, a bank, a computer store and a 24-hour fitness center. The traffic near the light on County Road 19 gets backed up at rush hour, and waits are frequent for the lunch buffet and dinner at the River Inn downtown.
Some 30 miles northwest of downtown Minneapolis, out on Interstate 94 and through St. Michael, Hanover now has about 2,900 residents, up from 1,300 in 2000, when the first phase of the Crow River Heights residential development was moving ahead. Back then, City Council meetings could be contentious, because wary residents were concerned about the potential of life-altering growth in the town, which embraces the Crow River. Founded in 1891, Hanover has maintained a historic bridge over the river and a quaint feel unimpeded by big-box chains.
On one edge of town, an older development with split levels blends into the newer, mostly taupe homes without decks that back up to lush cornfields.
Out in the Bridges at Hanover development, where the homes come with bigger porches and garages, residents might see cows out in a nearby farm.
White-fenced horse farms are nestled down the roads from developments carrying inscrutably nouveau street names such as Mallard, Meadowlark, Meander, Kadler, Kaitlin, Kayla and Kalea.
It's a blend, or as Hennessey says proudly of the mix: "You can still smell the manure."
'Nicest drive in the world'
The juxtaposition isn't incidental.
"It's not just about growing — it's about how you grow," said Todd Bartels, chairman of the city's Economic Development Authority. Bartels doesn't live in Hanover, but he works for Pearson Bros. Inc., a seal-coating company that moved into the town's industrial park in 2005. The company trucks rumble in and out at all hours in the summer for the climate-driven business. Mechanics work in the back garages, and drivers sleep in trailers so they can log longer hours.
Chris Strong, who runs Pearson with her brothers, said Hanover welcomed the company's heavy equipment on its roads. "Some cities, they don't want you coming in with the trucks anymore," she said.
Hanover also welcomed Pearson's neighbor, Astro Engineering and Manufacturing. Owner George Ross moved the company out from Plymouth to get "double the space for less money," he said. The property taxes are about a fourth of what he paid in the closer-in suburb, Ross said.
"They're more lenient here," he said. Ross, a Wayzata native, also enjoys the 20-minute river road commute from his home west of Delano. "I've got the nicest drive in the world."
Settling into modest growth
The relocation of Ross' company is a sign of the community's upswing that could renew development debates about the rate of growth and balance.
Like the state and national economies, Hanover's development hit pause in recent years. "A lot of the construction we had planned came to a grinding halt," said City Clerk Annita Smythe.
Hanover never become a foreclosure ghost town; the houses remain full of families and construction has returned. "It's started to tick up again," Smythe said.
In 2011, three new homes were built. In 2012, it was 13, and Smythe said it's more than 20 already this year.
Hanover appears to be settling now into measured growth and looking to fill gaps by adding an assisted-living facility and retirement housing. A regional bike path will travel down the Crow and into the Twin Cities, but the city leaders say they will work to maintain Hanover's "rural feel" for those who want to get away, like rock legend Bob Dylan, who maintains an expansive rural compound in Hanover.
"The list of things this community has is so much longer than what we need," Hennessey said. "You can't replicate a community like this without doing it on purpose."
The biggest wish list item at Hanover City Hall to make living easier has nothing to do with development. Smythe said, "We'd like to be in one county."