A grassy field near downtown Burnsville is getting a second chance nearly a decade after it became a casualty of the housing crash.
Brian Tutt, president of TC Homes in Dayton, says that he plans to build townhouses — a rarity in today's market — on a 6.2-acre site in a prime spot just a mile from Interstate 35W and within walking distance to several shops.
That means a quick commute to Bloomington and downtown Minneapolis, Tutt said, "and you're a half-mile from downtown Burnsville."
In 2005, Toll Brothers got approval to build 68 townhouses but didn't move forward. McDevitt Homes bought the property and, in 2006, built one five-unit building. It then scrapped the project in the midst of the downtown, turning it over to Minnwest Bank.
Tutt worked with Minnwest on a previous project and started negotiations to purchase the property. At the same time, the group started looking at ways of revamping the configuration of the development to make the houses more marketable.
Repositioning the project, which he renamed River Valley Commons, was critical. New home sales in the Twin Cities have been relatively sluggish compared with last year. During August, there were nearly 350 new home sales in the metro, down 11 percent from last year, according to the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.
Demand aside, townhouses are scarce today. Wendy Danks, marketing director for the Builders Association of the Twin Cities, said that only 25 out of the 400 entries on the Parade of Homes tour this fall are attached townhouses, suggesting that builders might be worried that young adults aren't in the financial position to buy.
After considerable market research, including discussions with agents about what might appeal to buyers today, Tutt took a counterintuitive step. He replatted the property and reduced the number of units to make them more like single-family houses by making them larger and wider. Townhouses are typically one room wide and two or three stories tall. Tutt made some of his three rooms wide.
"When people are buying a townhouse today, they don't want to feel like they're living in an apartment," he said. "That defeats the purpose of having their own place. The design just wasn't right for what today's buyers are looking for."
In November 2013, eight years after first planned, the TC Homes proposal won unanimous approval from the Burnsville City Council. Work at the site began almost immediately.
Though the project will have only 43 units, compared with the original plan of 65, Tutt expects that they'll be easier to sell and for more money. The units range from 1,900 to 2,500 square feet and prices will range from $199,000 for a two-level unit with tuck-under garage to about $225,000 for a three-level.
That's a sweet spot in the housing market today, especially for new construction, which has typically been geared toward move-up home buyers who are selling their starting house and reinvesting that equity in a more expensive custom home.
The median price of all newly built homes in the Twin Cities during August was up 14 percent to nearly $390,000. A sales center opened recently, and five buyers have already stepped forward.
"New construction is rare in Burnsville," Tutt said. "This is unique."
Jim Buchta • 612-673-7376