For some Edina residents, keeping their suburb suburban means no high-rise buildings.

Last year, a bruising battle over building heights ended up in court, with residents successfully batting down a proposal for a 17-story condominium tower in the Centennial Lakes development.

Now the city is looking at a new area for possible high-rise development -- the so-called Cahill Gardens area flanked roughly by Hwy. 100 on the east, the city of Bloomington on the south, Cahill Road to the west and W. 70th Street on the north.

The "garden" image is wishful thinking right now: The area is mostly low-slung warehouses and nondescript industrial buildings.

But Nine Mile Creek skirts the edge of the property, and a railroad track that park advocates hope to turn into a path for bikers and walkers stretches across the area from north to south. There's easy access to the area with the intersection of Hwy. 100, and Interstate 494 is near the neighborhood's southeast corner.

"This could be the next kind of Southdale-Centennial Lakes area," said Dan Cornejo, a St. Paul consultant who is helping coordinate development of Edina's new comprehensive plan. "The city could create really interesting neighborhoods there."

The Cahill Gardens idea has surfaced as the city has worked on its new comprehensive plan, which is supposed to guide development in Edina for at least the next decade. The plan, which is in draft form now and won't be approved until after several public hearings are held, would allow buildings up to 16 stories high to be built in the Cahill area.

As a mature suburb, Edina increasingly is looking at building up rather than out to accommodate new development. About 56 percent of development in the city is single-family homes; only about 4 percent is multifamily residential, and 8 percent is commercial, retail or office.

Concerns about building up

Edina's tallest building now is a 19-story tower in the Edinborough complex. The new Westin Hotel and condominium next to the Galleria is 18 stories.

Attendance at informal community meetings on the draft comprehensive guide plan was sparse, but residents who spoke tended to be concerned about the possibility of more tall buildings in Edina.

Lynn Hechanova was one of those who opposed the tall structures.

"I hate to see us develop into a high-rise type of area," she said later in an interview. "I think a suburb should remain a suburb. It detracts somewhat from the residential feel and encourages that urban development and more traffic."

Mark Chamberlain agreed. He doesn't like the Westin, pointing to it as example of the kind of development that doesn't fit near single-family homes.

"When you start plopping high-rises in residential areas, that's different from putting them in urban areas," he said. "I'm just not excited about that."

Developers would not automatically be able to build to the 16-story heights in the draft plan. To do that, they would have to meet "density bonus" requirements, including such things as affordable housing, green space, underground parking and sustainable or environmentally sensitive construction in a development.

Trying to strike a balance

The vision for the Cahill Gardens area is for mixed use, perhaps including multistory housing that has a more urban feel, Cornejo said. But there could also be clusters of townhouses and small single-family homes on smaller lots.

"It could all coexist if it's designed well," he said. "Right now we're trying to cast the bigger vision and actually anticipate the market over the years. If [a developer wants] to do something bold ... here's where we want to point you to."

Heather Worthington, assistant city manager, called the Cahill area a "unique opportunity" and said the draft plan tries to take advantage of its location at the intersection of two major freeways.

One 10-acre site in the neighborhood, a former General Motors parts facility and warehouse, has been vacant for years. Worthington said the draft plan tries to strike a balance between preserving neighborhood character and encouraging development. No one wants stagnation, she said.

Cornejo said big buildings are going to come.

"We're going to get developers who want to build high-rises, and they're going to build them somewhere," he said. "We have people knocking on our door all the time. Why don't we plan for it?"

The land use proposal in the plan also includes possible 16-story buildings in the Southdale area. Eighteen-story buildings are permitted there now. In that area, the draft plan pushes height away from residential areas toward Hwy. 62 and Interstate 494, Worthington said.

The plan also suggests that buildings taller than four stories "step down" to lower levels near streets and shorter buildings to avoid overwhelming their surroundings, shadowing parks and sidewalks and blocking views.

A hearing on the draft comprehensive plan is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 19 before the Edina Planning Commission. More hearings will be held later.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380