The housing boom that transformed Baldwin Township from farm country to exurbia has ended. This chart, derived from Sherburne County planning data, shows new home construction has virtually ceased.
And in the last three years more than 200 Baldwin homes have gone into foreclosure. That raises the question: When will Baldwin start to grow again?
"Three to four years ago I thought it would have happened by now, and it hasn't" Sherburne County Planner Jon Sevald said.
Sevald predicts that if Baldwin sticks with its current standard of 2.5-acre residential lots, it could expect to max out at about double its current population.
"But when that gets built out it's difficult to say," Sevald said. "It might be 50 years from now. It might be 20 years from now."
Howard Homes, which built hundreds of houses in Baldwin Township over the course of the boom, is down to just five full-time employees. It used to have more than three times that. Owner Dylan Howard doesn't expect Baldwin to start growing again for at least several years.
"A lot of the people that moved out to this area in the last decade or so were people in primarily construction," Howard said. "As you drive through a lot of these houses have a pickup truck with some insignia on the side of it and a ladder rack, and I think because of that, it's going to take growth in a lot of other areas before this area kicks back."
But what if the question isn't, "When Baldwin will grow again?" What if it's, "Will Baldwin grow again?"
"If you talk to the Realtors and developers and standard bureaucratic planning organizations, they'll say we're in a lull. After the lull, we will be magically transformed into 1995. We'll see roads with cul-de-sacs and tract housing going up. That's insane," said Charles Marohn, president of the Community Growth Institute in Brainerd. "It ignores what has caused this downturn. It ignores the financial situation the country is in."
Marohn, a planning consultant who works with small towns around Minnesota, predicts tighter credit markets and strained government budgets will make further development in areas like Baldwin impractical.
But Sevald disputes that. He argues the magnet that drew people to Baldwin will continue to draw them there in the future.
"People are still going to want to move out where land is more affordable and where they can get away from other people," Sevald said.
What do you think? Will growth return to Baldwin? How does the answer to that question affect the decisions facing the township?
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