The last time Chaska approved a plan for future growth and development, it didn't have Hwy. 212 running down its spine.

Now the city has nearly completed a master plan for about 2,000 acres of undeveloped property that lie along both sides of the highway, which opened in 2008.

"When you look at the number of households that are going to be out there and businesses, it's a small city that we're planning here," said Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.

The plan would guide development of southwest Chaska during the next 25 years, and could mean that the city's current population of about 24,000 would grow by another 10,000 to 12,000 residents, Podhradsky said.

The city has been working on the plan since April. The area includes the southwest portion of the city that was Chaska Township until the city annexed it in 2005. It replaces an earlier plan called the Heights of Chaska that involved about 700 of the acres.

Public hearings set

The new draft plan has been through several revisions, public meetings and open houses, and is now nearing completion. Three final public hearings will occur next month before the city's park board, planning commission and City Council.

Although the overall economy has been lackluster, some developers see better times ahead and are excited about the potential for growth in Chaska.

Jake Enebak, CEO of Tradition Development, said his firm purchased a couple of farms in the area about 10 years ago and is eager to develop there.

"The new freeway really opens things up," he said. "You're probably 10 minutes' drive from the [Interstate] 494 loop there, and that access is about as good as anywhere in the metro area right now."

Enebak said his family-owned firm, which specializes in residential development, won't "dive in headfirst," but would like to move forward with an initial small project of perhaps 25 to 50 lots in 2013.

Under the plan for southwest Chaska, much of the area west of Hwy. 212 would be devoted to business parks, with light-industrial and other firms. Acreage east of the highway is designated as mainly as residential and neighborhood mixed-use. The plan also includes a 60-acre community park and playfield, about 600 acres of wetlands and other open space, and about 50 acres of commercial space near a potential highway interchange at County Road 140.

Alex Young, chairman of Chaska's Planning Commission, said the plan is flexible and moves the city in the right direction.

"We can dream all day long about what we want to see and how many linear feet of road we want, and sidewalks everywhere and parks, but it has to make sense financially," he said.

Young said the plan is realistic, largely because many of the property owners -- some of them developers -- took an active role in shaping it.

Homes come first

Kevin Ringwald, Chaska community development director, said the entire area includes about 2.8 square miles, "which is probably bigger than a fair number of metro cities." He expects the earliest development will be residential clusters spreading west from the downtown, which he said will strengthen existing businesses and other retail in the area.

The land allotted for commercial development in the plan is "fair but restrained," Ringwald said, in keeping with current trends. "Right now in the market there's probably an overabundance of commercial," he said. "We don't expect to see large areas of commercial development because of that, and especially because of the distance we are from the core cities."

Big-box stores and other retail would likely become interested in the future only when enough new homes are built, Ringwald said -- and if an extra highway interchange is constructed at the junction of Hwy. 212 and County Road 140.

The Park Board and Planning Commission will each vote next month on whether to recommend the plan, and the City Council will make the final decision about adopting it.

Once approved, the Metropolitan Council must also sign off on the southwest plan as an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan. State transportation officials would also review it, especially regarding possible long-term highway changes.

Young said his parents moved to Chaska Township in the 1970s, and he's raising his family in the same house where he grew up.

"It's virtually been unchanged my entire life, and the same fields I saw farmed 30 years ago are still being farmed," he said.

"We're well aware that things will change, and they could change quickly."

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388