The Twin Cities apartment boom has spread from the urban core to suburbia, where new buildings bedecked with amenities are reshaping neighborhoods and challenging the primacy of the single-family home.
Apartment construction has been ramping up in the suburbs, which last year collectively permitted 2.5 times more multifamily housing units than Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to new Metropolitan Council data. Not since the early 1970s, during the first wave of suburban apartment construction, have multifamily units accounted for such a large share of overall suburban development.
“This, over the last five years, has just popped up,” said Pam Cecchini, who grew up in Apple Valley and recently moved back, as she looked out over Kelley Park, around which about 650 multifamily units have been approved or built across five developments since 2010. They range from a senior housing facility to luxury apartments with a private theater.
Suburbs see apartment growth
More than a quarter of the development since 2010 is geared toward seniors.
Where corn once grew on a family farm in Woodbury, more than 500 multifamily units are now rising in an “urban village.” Seniors can soon enjoy what developers dub a “permanent staycation” at age-restricted housing beside Eagan’s outlet mall. An undeveloped island in Minnetonka now boasts “The Island Residences,” complete with canoe landing to paddle around the property.
Despite resistance in some suburban neighborhoods to dense development, the apartment boom is forecast to continue. Marquette Advisors estimates that the share of the metro area’s apartments opening in the suburbs will rise from about half this year to 73 percent in 2019, before falling back to 54 percent in 2020. The suburbs account for about three-quarters of the metro area’s population.
“It used to be a safe assumption that multifamily development was only happening in the core cities or the oldest parts of the region, or on a transit line,” said Libby Starling, the Met Council’s deputy director of community development.
One recent evening, workers were busy installing the “lazy river” at Talo apartments in Golden Valley on what was once spare state-owned right of way off Interstate Hwy. 394. The property, still under construction, features a two-story gym with a rock climbing wall among other amenities, such as a “speakeasy” lounge hidden behind a bookshelf.
“It’s away from the mess of Uptown, away from the clutter,” said Daniel Colvin, a 29-year-old financial planner who recently moved into the property.
The council’s multifamily permit figures account for buildings with more than five units, both rental and owner-occupied. After Minneapolis, metro cities that approved the most new multifamily units last year were Golden Valley, Eagan, Apple Valley, Minnetonka and Edina. And they are getting larger. Five suburban projects with more than 300 units have been approved since 2010 — four of them were in 2017.
“Not everybody’s going to live downtown,” said Mary Bujold of Maxfield Research, which tracks development trends in the region. “And a lot of those suburban communities hadn’t had anything new built in like 10 to 15 years. It was time.”
Senior housing makes up more than a quarter of the new suburban apartment units approved since 2010, according to Met Council data. By contrast, very few senior housing units have been built in the central cities.
“We really find that a lot of these folks would like to stay in their communities because that’s where all their connections are,” said Mark Nelson, a senior vice president at United Properties who specializes in senior housing. “They’ve raised their families there.”
United Properties builds senior co-ops under its Applewood brand. They opened the first property in 2004 and will soon have 14 locations, scattered from Champlin to Woodbury.
Some cities like Golden Valley are unaccustomed to this much apartment development. The city approved more than 750 new apartment units last year.
“We haven’t seen that kind of development, and certainly not at that pace, really in our history or our recollection,” said Mark Nevinski, Golden Valley’s physical development director. “We are largely a single-family home community.”
Not all residents are ready for the shift. Dense housing proposals have drawn fierce neighborhood opposition in recent years in Minnetonka, Edina, Excelsior, Arden Hills, Victoria, Chanhassen and many other cities.
Yet the zoning codes in some suburbs are often clearer about allowing multifamily housing than in Minneapolis, said developer Kelly Doran, who has a number of suburban projects underway.
“They’ve already predetermined that they want density in that particular location,” Doran said. “And there may be people that complain about it, or are concerned about it, but in many cases the ship has kind of sailed.”
In St. Louis Park’s burgeoning West End area, Elizabeth Berg ticks off friends in their early 30s who have moved into new nearby apartment buildings. What was once a lonely service road featuring an Olive Garden restaurant now boasts a hotel and several large housing complexes near the shopping district. Berg’s home, Millennium at West End, replaced a Chili’s.
She and her fiancé struck a compromise when choosing where to live.
“I wanted to live downtown. He wanted to live in the suburbs,” Berg said. “This area, you can walk to the grocery store, walk to the movie theater, walk to retail shops, bars and restaurants.”
She expects her community of friends may move away when they begin having children, however.
“I think when they start walking is when we’ll go out to actually the ‘suburb’ suburbs,” Berg said.
Doran said suburban tenants are typically looking for a lot of amenities and preferably a building within walking distance of nearby destinations. He said the core audience is similar to downtown: Millennials and empty-nest baby boomers.
“It’s kind of like a barbell. You’ve got these two big ends,” Doran said.
Kelley Park in Apple Valley has become a bit too urban for Cecchini, who moved from nearby Rosemount back to her childhood hometown to be closer to her mother — who lives in the new senior housing. Cecchini, who graduated in the first class of Apple Valley High School, remembers when Cedar Avenue was a one-lane dirt road and kids used to go exploring in the woods.
“Everywhere you turn there’s a store, a mall, a restaurant,” Cecchini said of modern Apple Valley. “It’s kind of like a mini-city.”