MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Small towns on the fringe of the metropolitan area are growing fastest, prompting warnings from one of the state's top experts on population trends.
An analysis by the state's Demographic Center shows that St. Michael, in Wright County, tripled in size from 1990 to 1998, making it the fastest-growing Minnesota city in terms of percentage. Becker, Albertville, Zimmerman and Isanti are close behind.
Former state demographer Hazel Reinhardt told area planners Wednesday that ''the Twin Cities commutershed now extends almost to Mankato,'' and urged ''substantial intervention'' immediately to change that trend.
Reinhardt said the problem is that fringe communities invest heavily in infrastructure such as schools, sewers and roads, even as existing suburbs are underused. Edina, for example, takes hundreds of students every year into its schools from other districts and could take even more if it actively recruited them. And as cities add sewer capacity, builders say some suburbs are deliberately slowing growth and letting existing sewer capacity go unused.
''If we're going to have any impact in changing that,'' Reinhardt said, ''it's got to be now,'' before the pattern becomes more pervasive and permanent.
Twin Cities-area homebuilders say Metropolitan Council restrictions on development within the metro area's seven-county core are behind the trend. Those limits are driving up prices, forcing long commutes to metro-area jobs from homes with more desirable features. Leaders of the Metropolitan Council, the region's planning agency, have promised to work with them to find solutions.
James Solem, the Met Council's chief administrator, said that in numerical terms most growth is still within the inner metro area. He said that in the 1990s, population growth in Woodbury was greater than the fastest-growing exurban towns combined.
''That is not to say,'' he added, ''that it isn't an important phenomenon and one that obviously is of interest from a whole variety of perspectives.''
Residents of rapid-growth fringe communities say land prices have driven some of them outward, but many simply favor the small-town atmosphere.
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