New neighborhoods are popping up quickly along the Cottage Grove-Woodbury border, filling in fields and farmsteads and prompting leaders to collaborate more on planning and projects as the cities grow toward each other.

The best recent example is the HERO Training Center, a public safety training facility that will be jointly owned and operated by the south Washington County cities when it opens in October.

And Cottage Grove’s northern edge is being divided and developed into master-planned communities that look much like Woodbury’s.

“I wouldn’t say we are one community; we are still distinctly different,” said Jennifer Levitt, Cottage Grove’s city administrator. “But we have similar visions in how we serve our residents.”

Cottage Grove’s most recent growth spurt has pushed it to sixth on the list of metro-area communities with the most single-family home construction this year, according to Housing First Minnesota. Woodbury ranks second on the same list.

Most of those new homes are going up in a zone of north Cottage Grove and south Woodbury that remained largely undeveloped only five years ago. The number of residents in the two cities is rising fast.

Both Cottage Grove and Woodbury are expected to grow by more than 20% from 2020 to 2040. In two decades’ time Woodbury, now about 70% developed, will likely be nearing the point where it’s completely built out.

Cottage Grove isn’t expected to hit that mark until after 2050, its leaders say. But by 2040, plans for the East Ravine district include turning much of the city’s northern section into low-density residential areas wrapped around green spaces.

The backbone of the development, Ravine Parkway, was recently completed, linking the trails and open spaces that will serve as key features of the neighborhoods to come.

“We’re really seeing the national builders take an interest in our market and they really found that niche here,” Levitt said.

Planned growth

Some of what makes north Cottage Grove attractive may come from proximity to the “known commodity” of Woodbury, said Mario Cocchiarella, who owns Maplewood Development Inc., a Minneapolis-based site developer. He said that Woodbury, where his company owns about 400 acres, “has done a very good job of setting out their comprehensive plan and sticking with it. That’s really what has fostered growth.”

But the appeal of the property along the Cottage Grove/Woodbury border is its distance from the latter’s commercial amenities, Cocchiarella said.

That area “is different from the rest of Woodbury, at least in the sense of privacy and quiet,” he said.

Most of Woodbury’s current low-density development is concentrated in its southernmost 2 miles, said Dwight Picha, the city’s community development director.

While the city is seeing some of the highest numbers of new single-family homes built since the early 2000s, Picha said it’s part of the planned growth to which the city has been committed for decades.

Woodbury’s 2040 comprehensive plan projects an average of about 400 new housing units per year while maintaining a 50/50 split between single-family homes and various types of attached housing, Picha said.

Cottage Grove is averaging about 30 new homes per month, some of the highest numbers seen in the last decade, Levitt said. Following the Great Recession of 10 years ago, she said, “these are really good numbers for us.” With 300 platted lots, she said she’s expecting the numbers to rise again next year.

Both cities’ comprehensive plans call for diversity in housing stock at various price points.

In addition to joint conversations about land use, roadways, trails, utility connections and stormwater management, Woodbury and Cottage Grove’s officials most recently have been working together on the HERO (Health and Emergency Response Occupations) Center.

A yearslong effort by the two cities culminated in construction of the center, which will provide immersive training for police, fire and emergency medical services personnel.

The $20.5 million center, near Cottage Grove’s City Hall, is a “great example of our two communities working together to provide services they probably couldn’t do on their own,” Picha said. “So much becomes easier when we do it together.”

A city’s demonstrated commitment to orderly growth and strong working relationships with neighboring communities makes it all the more attractive to developers and home buyers, Cocchiarella said.

“That’s worth a lot both to the development community and to the general public looking at the biggest investment of their life — buying a home,” he said.