HALSTAD, Minn. — In Norman County, a county of less than 6,500 residents located on Minnesota’s western edge, the town of Halstad is using a unique recruiting tactic to attract new residents: giving away land.
Halstad's free lots program is offering new homeowners in the town no-cost plots of land as well as a bundle of other incentives with the hopes of bringing in new residents. Three 12,400-square-foot and a pair 16,000-square-foot lots are available. Any takers will also have their electrical, water and sewer connection fees waived and be reimbursed for the first 75 feet, excluding trenching.
According to interim City Clerk Mike Trygg, the free lots program got its start in the mid-1990s.
"The city had a chunk of property within the city limits in the northeast corner of the town dating back to the 1990s that had been undeveloped," he said. "Around 1996 or 1997, maybe even as early as 1995, they platted the lots that are now part of the free lot program."
The city constructed streets and other infrastructure, creating at least 10 lots, Trygg estimated.
"As luck would have it, I actually live in one of the first of two homes that were built in the free lots," Trygg, a former Fargo-Moorhead resident himself, said. "They were the only two homes in the area for quite a few years and then a couple of other lots sold farther down the street."
Among the other incentives the free lots program boasts are tax abatements and two years of deferred special assessments for the infrastructure built. Special assessments run $5,720.40 for the three smaller plots and $7,150.20 and $7,380.60 for the two larger plots.
"For five years, the owners can apply each year for an abatement of the city portion of their property taxes," Trygg said. "They'll still have to pay county taxes and things like that, but the city property tax is abated for the first five years as long as they apply each year."
While other towns such as nearby Hendrum, Minn. offer similar incentives, Trygg believed Halstad was one of the only towns to give away free lots.
Halstad, located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Minnesota State Highway 200, is a 40 minute straight-shot to the Fargo-Moorhead area and 50 minutes from Grand Forks.
"If you don’t mind the short commute, it's nice roads and it's flat and straight," Trygg said, adding that the drive pales in comparison to commuter traffic in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. "Even driving from south Fargo to north Fargo could take 20 minutes some days," he continued.
Other nearby communities include county seat Ada, Crookston, Minn. and Hillsboro, N.D., Trygg noted.
In August, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development named Halstad among 23 Telecommuter Forward! communities. The certification is given to towns and cities throughout the state that adopt a model resolution for telecommuting, which includes a statement of support and commitment to promote telecommuting.
"We have incredible infrastructure for high-speed internet. If somebody needed to run a home office, they could do it here," Trygg said. The town of 576 residents also has its own municipal utilities, which includes generators within its dyke that could power the entire town if the grid went down.
In the spring , Halstad unveiled its 21-foot-tall World's Largest Sugar Beet sculpture commemorating the area's sugar beet farmers. Trygg expects the roadside attraction and park will attract travelers to spend time in the town.
While the town's Valley General Store offers groceries, liquor and hardware, Trygg said the No. 1 thing he misses about living in the F-M area is access to a dine-in restaurant. That said, there are still some aspects of the metro area he can do without. "I can tell you what I don't miss and that's the traffic and the trains," he joked.
The last home constructed as a part of the free lots program went up three years ago. Trygg said the program hasn't been marketed as well as it could have been, but a robust real estate market in the town has him optimistic the remaining five plots will be claimed in due time.
"Life in a small town is what it is. It's not like Fargo-Moorhead," Trygg said. "I can tell you that the homes that do go for sale in Halstad are not on the market very long, so we're hopeful that we'll get additional interest."