News Column

High-end Home Construction Returning to Minneapolis

Feb 25, 2013

Jim Anderson

For the first time in years, in another signal that the housing recovery is working its way to the luxury end of the market, million-dollar homes are coming back to Woodbury in a big way.

The Woodbury City Council this week is expected to approve plans for a development called Autumn Ridge, a cluster of 20 homes spread across more than 61 acres on what had been farmland at the southwest corner of Military Road and Radio Drive, north of Glen Road, in the southwest part of the city.

When ground is broken on the first custom-built homes this spring, it will culminate several years of patience and planning for Tim Thone, of Thone Property Investments, who has been involved in the construction of hundreds of Woodbury homes over the past 30 years.

"Nobody's really done an estate-type development in Woodbury in more than 25 years," Thone said. He bought the land four years ago, at the depth of the recession, and now sees the market poised for houses that will range from $700,000 to $1 million or more.

"The market completely froze up in '07 and '08," he added and, while developers mostly went on a building hiatus, they used the time to plan for projects in the recovery.

The new development's location is its key attraction, he said. It's about 3 miles from the recently revamped junction of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 61 and the Wakota Bridge, a mile from the new East Ridge High School and a mile from Bielenberg Gardens, a new retail/residential shopping center being developed in which Thone is also involved. Autumn Ridge is also near, but not a part of, a major residential development in south Woodbury that is expected to entail 6,000 more homes over the next decade.

"Location is still everything, and Woodbury has always been desirable for all kinds of housing," said Remi Stone, executive vice president of the Builders Association of Minnesota.

Luxury home buyers have not been affected by the housing downturn in the same way as first-time buyers or those who are moving up in the market, she said. They often pay with cash, or are otherwise not concerned with such issues as lending guidelines and trying to make minimum down payments.

"It's a segment that's never really left the marketplace," Stone said. Construction of high-end homes like those in Woodbury is one more signal of confidence that the new-housing market is making gains at every level.

"The gears are starting to move in the machinery," Stone said. There's a sense of cautious optimism that we have not seen for six years."

The city's Planning Commission approved the Autumn Ridge plan last week.

"This is a very unique project," said Eric Searles, the city's associate planner. "We think it fills a need for executive housing here in Woodbury."

Woodbury has not escaped the housing market's recent decline, but the pace of building permits has quickened noticeably, Searles said. At this time last year, the city had issued 24 permits for single-family homes. For the same period this year, 57 permits have already been issued. "We're really seeing strength at every level of the market," he said.

Mike Rygh, whose Custome One Homes in Cottage Grove will be building the houses in Autumn Ridge, also said business is good. "We're as busy as we can be," he said. "We're starting a new house about every two weeks."

The homes in Autumn Ridge will be individually designed to the specifications of buyers, and will likely average about 3,500 to 4,500 square feet. They will have their own private wells and septic systems, and will be built on lots of 2 to 4 acres with access off Glen Road by two cul-de-sacs.

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Source: (c) 2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)