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Housing comes along slowly in Woodbury

New housing is going up as part of Woodbury’s Phase 2 development, but not at the rate previously planned. A total of 380 new homes, including some of those in the Ashton Ridges development, were built in 2014. (Staff photo by Michelle Leonard)

The next era of residential growth is well under way in Woodbury, but that growth is not coming as quickly as some in the city would like. 

Approved by the Woodbury City Council in 2011, the Phase 2 Growth Management Strategy, more commonly known as “Phase 2,” outlines a plan to fill in most of the available land south of Bailey Road to the Cottage Grove municipal boundary.

When it was created, the management strategy projected an annual growth of 600 units per year. Adequate land has been opened, according to Woodbury Senior Planner Eric Searles, but the development has not come as rapidly as planned.

Phase 2 includes some new amenities currently under construction, including the Bielenberg Gardens commercial development and the St. Therese Senior Living apartments, both just south of Bailey Road. Expansion of the Bielenberg Sports Center is finished, and a proposed all-accessible park, Madison’s Place, is proposed for the land just to the south of BSC.

And East Ridge High School, School District 833’s newest high school, sits atop a hill, visible from much of the Phase 2 development area.

Still, the surrounding housing is slow to come. While the original plan was for 600 homes per year, the reality is that 380 residential units were constructed in 2014. That amount ranked Woodbury as having the fifth-most units constructed in the metro area last year, but it fell short of projections all the same.

Five projects have been opened in Phase 2, which should provide an adequate inventory of homes for 2015 and 2016. However, Searles expects that only about 275 homes will be built in 2015, and fewer still will be constructed next year.

“We had some optimism in 2014, based on comments from national builders and based on quicker growth patterns. In the end, 2014 was a good year, but not as good as we thought it would be. Going into 2015, there isn’t as much optimism from the building community,” Searles said.

Why the decrease

A number of factors play into the decrease in housing development, he said. In a Feb. 18 Woodbury City Council workshop memo, Searles indicated that six different trends have emerged since the end of the recession.

For one thing, a lot of the smaller, local builders did not survive the recession, so there are fewer companies bringing plans forward for construction. A number of changes to state building and energy codes has also affected the housing industry. 

Woodbury is also experiencing a change in demographics, where many residents have smaller families and are not necessarily looking for larger homes. 

At the same time, the market remains somewhat volatile, and consumers are uncertain about the economy. College debt is also playing a role for first-time homebuyers, according to Searles. 

“I think there will always be new trends emerging,” Searles said. “In this case, these are some of the items that may be part of the reason for why we’re not having the growth numbers in the 400 units per year.”

The biggest factor, at least for one local builder, has been the uncertainty of where school boundary lines are being drawn by District 833.

A circle effect

Peggy Johnson of Lennar Minnesota, builders of the Ashton Ridge neighborhood said the school boundary issue has affected many of her sales in the past year.

With East Ridge High School plainly in sight from the homes, many potential buyers want to know their students will attend East Ridge. With the school district going through its boundary process, for a while, Johnson could not guarantee that would be the case.

The current maps for the Phase 2 area indicate that only two of the areas open for development – both located just south of Bailey Road, on the west side of the city – would be transferred from the East Ridge boundary to that of Woodbury High School. Otherwise, all of the property within the Phase 2 development area, all the way to the Cottage Grove border, is scheduled to stay at East Ridge.

“Our concern has been resolved,” Johnson said. “We have sold quite a few (homes) since we were assured those families would attend East Ridge.”

But the boundary proposal is still having some effect on housing sales. Lake Middle School is closer to the Phase 2 development area, but many of the properties are proposed to be redirected to Woodbury Middle School. 

“I’ve had people walk away because of the middle school boundaries,” Johnson said. 

District 833 officials were scheduled to see a final boundary proposal this week. The new boundaries are expected to be brought to the school board for final approval at the end of the month.

The new high school boundaries, if approved, will shift students living in Cottage Grove from East Ridge High School to Park High School. That will leave room at East Ridge to address some of the future space needs, District 833 Assistant to the Superintendent for Operations Mike Vogel said at the Feb. 18 Woodbury City Council workshop. 

But the school district is also considering a bond referendum to cover expansion and improvement projects at East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools. The projects would increase the size of each building, allowing adequate space for growth in the student population well into the future. 

However, Vogel noted that Woodbury’s short numbers in the Phase 2 development may affect those plans. The school district made its projections for future enrollment based on, in part, the annual new housing numbers of 600 units per year in the Phase 2 development.

When asked what the city could do better to help School District 833 with its boundary plans, Vogel responded: “I can’t say do better, but certainly, I do say do quicker. We love the development.”

Coming together

The correlation between the status of Phase 2’s decreased numbers, the school boundaries and housing sales is connected, but what that connection is, Searles said, “is the unknown.

“That’s ultimately what creates a buyer to be cautious. The unknown. Whether it’s a school, other development … when there’s an unknown, people are maybe less likely to make such a significant purchase as a new home.” 

Once the school district’s boundaries are determined for good, that will alleviate some of the unknown, Searles said. And with Bielenberg Gardens and some of the other projects in the area coming together, he said, the Phase 2 development will continue. Maybe not as quickly as originally planned, but the opportunity still exists for future growth in the community.

“All of the qualities of a good development are there,” he said.