Hometown: Clover Ridge, Chaska, Minnesota
By Jason Miller
One of the greatest challenges that virtually all well-executed
TNDs face is the issue of affordability. Typically, new urban neighborhoods
provide reasonably affordable residential options during their initial
offering, but then market demand drives up the price of even the affordable
units, pushing them out of reach for would-be residents.
In Chaska, Minn., the first phase of a new traditional neighborhood is
making significant strides toward creating residences that start affordable
and stay that way. One of four neighborhoods within the Clover Ridge development,
Clover Field combines a cost-efficient construction technique and uses
a land trust organization to retain affordability while allowing homeowners
to benefit and profit from their properties' increasing value. In doing
so, Clover Ridge starts to deliver on the city of Chaska's vision of being
"the best small town in America" by providing a neighborhood filled with
a wide variety of housing styles and types -- and just as many price points.
Start With a Crisis
Located just past the southwestern third ring suburbs of Minneapolis,
Chaska is the kind of place most people would like to come home to. Incorporated
in 1851, the town boasts a thriving traditional downtown and a decidedly
small-town atmosphere. Because of its quality of life and proximity to
Minneapolis, however, city officials expect Chaska's ranks to grow from
17,000 to 30,000 by 2015.
Where will these people live, and what if they're not earning six-figure
salaries when they arrive? That's the question city officials chose to
answer in early 2000, when the concept phase of Clover Ridge began, says
Kevin Ringwald, director of planning and development for the city of Chaska.
"One of the city's early complaints was that we hadn't built an affordable
house in eight years," he says. "So we started small, aiming to build
at least two affordable units. We ended up exceeding our expectations."
That's an understatement. When Clover Ridge is completely built out --
by May 2007, if all goes according to plan -- 30 to 35 percent of the
neighborhood's housing stock will be affordable by those households earning
the area's annual median income, which currently is $38,000. At press
time, residences in Clover Ridge were selling for between $80,000 and
Even so, the affordable price points are not precisely where they originally
wanted them to be, says Ringwald. "There were two reasons for this: We
had to do additional grading in Clover Field, and the research and development,
plus the amount of effort it took to change the design of the 'suburban
dinosaur,' affected our overall costs."
Make a Plan and Play It
But those setbacks didn't come till later. Early on, the city broke records
for swift execution. "We started the Clover Ridge concept in February
of 2000, and broke ground about seven months after that," says Ringwald.
That's not a typo. City officials had done their homework prior to the
planning phase. They knew they wanted Chaska to develop in a more sustainable
and traditional fashion than the conventional suburban developments that
were knocking on its door, and they knew they needed to solve the affordable
housing problem. Keeping in mind the city's vision and its strategies
with regard to marketing, historic preservation, and affordable housing,
Ringwald and his team drew up detailed plans that would enhance the community's
character through thoughtful development.
With those plans in hand, city officials called in prospective developers
and told them precisely what was required. "That's probably the most unique
thing about how Chaska approaches development," says Ringwald. "There's
simply no confusion. We show developers what we want, then say, 'if you
will do this plan, we will grease the skids for you and you'll be in and
out.' When they leave the meeting, they either say they like the plan
or they say no, we're not going to do it."
Something for Everyone
Clover Ridge is built on land purchased from four different farms; hence,
four different neighborhoods comprise the development -- with varying
levels of density (and price points): Clover Preserve, Clover Ridge, Traditions
at Clover Ridge, and Clover Field. In Clover Preserve, for example, sidewalks
and street trees are abundant, but one finds a more suburban pattern dominating:
larger lots, conventional suburban house "styles," and front-loaded garages.
Clover Field is Clover Ridge's first phase and the one getting the most
attention from new urbanists. Currently near completion, Clover Field
hosts Clover Ridge Elementary School and a central park. It has the highest
densities, ranging from five units per acre on some blocks, to 50-70 units
per acre on others. This helps the Clover Ridge development average 4
units per acre as a whole, compared to roughly 1.4 units per acre in surrounding
conventional suburban developments.
Clover Field has the affordable housing, too, most of which is modular
construction. The components are assembled in a Wisconsin factory, then
trucked to the building site for completion. This computer-driven approach
creates a more solid house with truer lines, and helps to manage building
costs. The savings are then passed to the homeowners. And since two-story
homes are composed of a bottom floor with ceiling joists, plus a top floor
with floor joists (with additional soundproofing material between the
two layers), the two living spaces are unbelievably quiet -- a big selling
point for duplex-dwellers.
Architect and town planner Richard McLaughlin, at that time working with
Michael Lamb at Urban Studio at HGA, Inc., in Minneapolis, handled the
design of the houses in Clover Field, making sure that the modular construction
approach would complement the architectural and aesthetic needs of the
homes and the neighborhood. "I was hesitant to get involved with manufactured
housing," he says. "But I realized we could influence the design and make
it fit the neighborhood character we wanted. I liked that the modules
could be constructed in the factory, then shipped to the site, where they
are bolted to the foundation and each other. And I was relieved to find
that the homes could be sealed on-site -- that's not something you want
to do in the factory, especially in the Midwest.
"The houses look good. You can't tell they're manufactured; they feel
like regular houses. I don't like the vinyl siding, but everything else
seemed to turn out pretty well. For the first one out of the gate, they've
done a good job."
To help curtail the swift increase in property values found in virtually
every well-executed neotraditional neighborhood in the nation, Chaska
officials created the Chaska Community Land Trust (CLT), a community-based,
grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and permanently
preserving affordable housing opportunities, while allowing individual
homeowners to build equity in their property.
Here's how it works: The CLT owns the land underneath the houses in Clover
Field. Each homeowner owns his or her house, and has a lease to put the
building on that lot for 99 years, with an option for adding another renewable
period of 99 years. When the homeowner sells the house, he receives the
equity off the house alone -- not the land. This strips away some of the
equity, which keeps the house and the land upon which it sits affordable
for decades because the most important and most volatile piece of the
property puzzle -- land value -- is removed from the equation. The housing
unit increases in value, but not exponentially, the way land can increase.
"Because of the way it preserves affordability in perpetuity, our CLT
approach is truly fiscally conservative and socially liberal," says Ringwald.
"It's very socially progressive, and it has broad support of both the
business community and the residents."
On the rental side of things, an affordable apartment complex is scheduled
to begin construction in early 2006. Dubbed The Sinclair, the 87-unit
project will offer approximately half of its units to families earning
50 percent of the area median income for a family of four, says Alan Arthur,
president of Minneapolis-based Central Community Housing Trust (CCHT),
a nonprofit provider of quality affordable housing and the project's builder.
"Our goal is to add 'life cycle' housing to Clover Field; that is, housing
for single individuals, couples, and families with children -- and anyone
who finds themselves moving through those cycles while living here. We
will maintain the quality of the housing; it will fit into the community
A Template for Change
In Clover Ridge, Chaska communicates its dedication to creating a traditional
neighborhood with more housing options -- at more price points -- for
area residents and newcomers. Currently 75 percent complete, Clover Ridge
should be built out by May 2007.
Yet even with all its successes, Ringwald is realistic about the experience.
"We know some of our processes and product are not perfect," he says.
"We should have built some or most of the town center first, so people
could see why they were giving up something in lot size.
"We understand more now about getting the details right, such as build-to
lines for the houses. And there were grading issues that caused some house-to-grade
relationships to be less than optimal."
These and other lessons are already being brought to bear in the planning
of Chaska's next TND, The Heights of Chaska, which at 4,000 units will
be four times the size of Clover Ridge. Master planned by Calthorpe Associates,
The Heights project is scheduled to break ground in 2006, undoubtedly
driven by the same philosophy that grew Clover Ridge from empty farmland:
the creation and implementation of a vision.