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Anoka County cities will react to population growth differently

  • Article by: Anna Pratt
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 15, 2013 - 2:16 PM

The Metropolitan Council forecasts an additional 900,000 residents in the Twin Cities region by the year 2040, according to a preliminary report it released last month.

Many areas throughout the metro will fill out, and Anoka County is no exception.

Already, the county is bracing for an influx of people in the coming years; it’ll have 415,750 residents in 2040 compared with 330,844 residents in 2010, by council estimates.

The council projects population, household and employment numbers for the cities and towns through 2040. It reveals that more people will be drawn to the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the inner suburbs. A key trend is that young millennials are seeking out “walkable, connected and more centrally located neighborhoods served by transit,” the report states.

After the data gets firmed up with input from local government agencies, it will help shape long-range planning efforts across the metro area, according to Libby Starling, the council’s manager of regional policy and research.

How the data will impact local communities will vary on a case-by-case basis. That’s because “local governments make decisions about how to allocate expected growth within their borders,” she said.

In Anoka County, that variation is evident. Take Columbia Heights, a first-ring suburb: It’s focused on redevelopment opportunities, such as along Central Avenue, she said.

By comparison, Blaine, which is on the way to becoming the county’s biggest city with 80,300 residents — a marked increase over 57,186 in 2010 — has more land available for new subdivisions. “We’re forecasting growth for both of them, but they have different growth patterns,” she said.

Anoka County isn’t seeing the same level of growth as some other counties in the region, however, partly as a result of its topography. The Anoka Sand Plain, for example, is a capacity constraint, she said. Some places lack access to a centralized sewer system, which can also limit growth.

“Anoka County doesn’t have as many of the cornfields waiting to be turning into subdivisions as others do,” she said.

Encouraging outlook

When it comes to employment, the council is predicting that Anoka County, which lost jobs in the recession, will once again see gains. That’s something that’s consistent across the region as the economy improves, Starling said.

The number of jobs in the county will go from 106,387 in 2010 to 150,960 in 2040, according to council information.

Rhonda Sivarajah, chairwoman of the Anoka County Board, said the county’s jobs outlook is encouraging, especially considering how many residents travel outside of the area for work. She attributes the turnaround in part to recent policy changes that ease the tax burden on citizens.

The same goes for companies as they scope out possible locations. “It’s about having property taxes that aren’t overburdensome” and a workforce at the ready, she said.

She expects some of that job growth to come from the area’s high-tech manufacturing and medical device industry. “A lot of related companies provide services and supplies to those companies,” too, she said.

Transit spurring growth?

The preliminary council numbers highlight growth along the Northstar commuter rail route, particularly around the Ramsey station.

For example, the Residence at the COR, a 230-unit apartment complex that connects to the Ramsey rail station via skyway, opened in September.

That’s just the beginning, Starling said. “To date, the region has only scratched the surface of the long-term development potential along the Northstar Line.”

On a broader level, people are looking for “good accessibility, transportation at work, proximity to central locations and a range of job opportunities,” she said.

But Sivarajah disagrees with the council’s conclusions about transit spurring growth. “I don’t know that transit necessarily plays a role in determining where people decide to live,” she said.

“We’re not seeing great growth and development around the Northstar Line, except for instances where a development has been highly subsidized by a city. I don’t believe it’s driving the growth,” she said.

Blaine is seeing plenty of growth, even though “it doesn’t have a great deal of transit,” she said.

“It’s about the quality of life, the tax burden, making sure we’re looking at good quality schools. Those things are what play into people’s decisionmaking,” she said.

In her view, people are attracted to the county because of its diversity. “The southern part is very urban. The middle is very suburban and as you go farther out, it’s very rural,” she said. “Anoka County has something for everybody.”

Other predictions

The Met Council also predicts that the number of residents 65 and older in the region will go up dramatically. That’s a trend that the county is already seeing, Sivarajah said.

To address that, the county recently restructured its social services to better serve seniors, Sivarajah said. The county also has directed more dollars to the Anoka County Community Action Program’s senior outreach and its information and referral line for older citizens, she said.

The idea is to keep seniors close to their families, friends and other support systems, she said.

 

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

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