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After housing plunge, city hopes for '11 rebound

After a record slow year for new home construction in Cottage Grove, city officials say they're optimistic about the beginnings of a market turnaround in 2011.

Through November, just 40 new single-family homes had been built in Cottage Grove in 2010. Contrast that with the 308 single-family and multi-family housing units built here in 2004 and the depths of the nation's economic and housing slide are apparent.

The final tally will likely make 2010 the slowest year for new homes in the city in 40 years.

Yet, renewed interest from developers and a slight uptick in new construction toward the end of last year has the city feeling positive momentum could be on the way, said Howard Blin, Cottage Grove's community development director.

"We're starting to see demand for creating new lots," Blin said. That, coupled with "slow and steady construction," has the city's top development official feeling optimistic about the year ahead.

"We look at sales of new construction, how long do the lots stay on the market, how long do the models sit," he said. "It seems like those time periods are going down."

Cottage Grove is perilously low on the number of ready-to-build lots, Blin said, a result of a wane in developer interest over the past four years. Roughly 70 lots are available at the moment, according to the city. That is down from between 200 to 300 lots ready for construction under healthy market conditions.

Blin said a new subdivision is set to be platted early this year. It would be the first new development in Cottage Grove since The Preserve in 2007.

At The Preserve, located off a rural stretch of Jamaica Avenue north of 70th Street, a backhoe sits on a partially dug lot and a few foundations are being poured. Those are signs construction activity is slowly returning to a subdivision that sat empty -- save for the model home -- since it was approved three years ago.

New home construction is also slowly picking up in developments along Hinton Avenue north of 70th Street, near the city's border with Woodbury.

Homebuilder Pulte Homes purchased The Preserve in 2010. Kelsey Anderson, a sales consultant with Pulte, said she believes the increase in activity in that development is thanks to home models priced more appropriate to the current market. The subdivision's previous developer had marketed some homes upward of $400,000; Anderson said Pulte is marketing homes in the Preserve in the high-$200,000 to low-$300,000 range.

"For the most part, that big, monstrous mini-mansion doesn't seem to be the big draw it was," she said.

From a developer's perspective, Cottage Grove is still "definitely an attractive place to live," Anderson said. "It's a great zip code."

City officials will hope more home builders share that view in 2011. Blin said some small developments could be on the way in 2011, "but we're happy for any development at this point."