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Reaching new heights
by Mollee Francisco
Mar 02, 2012 | 2343 views | 3 3 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
download 338H_20120301_ckh_heights_map.pdf
For over the last decade, Chaska has eyed the southwest corner of the city for development potential.

It’s an area that carries with it the promise to attract both new residents (in the “Heights of Chaska” development) and new jobs (in the adjacent Biotech Center).

But growth and development have been slow to come, thanks largely to the economic downturn and subsequent housing slump.

Chaska is hopeful that will change soon as city staff reviews development applications for the Heights of Chaska and works toward a new interchange at Highway 212 and County Road 140.

“Southwest Chaska is where most of the growth is planned today,” said Kevin Ringwald, Chaska director of planning and development.

On Feb. 15, members of the Chaska City Council and the Chaska Planning Commission met in a joint work session to consider how the original plans for the 1,000-acre Heights of Chaska and the 800-acre Biotech Center have been impacted over the last 10 years.

“Way too many things have changed to say go forward with [the original plans],” said Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.

The impetus for the meeting came from both a proposed development that would extend north of the existing Chaska Highlands neighborhood as well as the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) conditional approval of an interchange at Highway 212 and County Road 140.

Late last year, MnDOT gave conditional approval for the interchange. The move means that the city will spend the next year creating a master plan for the area and working on an amendment to Chaska’s comprehensive plan that includes the interchange at County Road 140.

“They have approved the interchange,” said City Engineer Bill Monk, of MnDOT. “But they won’t formally approve it until a comp plan amendment is adopted by the council.”

CATALYST

City staff believes that the promise of an interchange could be just the incentive needed to get things moving again in the Heights of Chaska.

“We’d like to strike while the iron is hot to get all the pieces in place,” said Ringwald. “We need some of these changes for the bigger developments to happen.”

Originally, the Heights of Chaska plans called for a “New Urbanism” approach, with residential pockets surrounding a neighborhood center with school, church and shops – similar to elements of Clover Ridge. Up to 3,500 homes were planned at the optimistic height of the Heights. But then the housing market crashed and the development projects dried up.

“In today’s market, you’re not going to build to that 3,500 mark,” said Ringwald.

So not only would a master plan reflect fewer homes for the mega neighborhood, but the design would be revised to account for the interchange.

“The new interchange becomes the center point of the whole area,” explained Monk, noting that it provides easier access to the Heights and the Biotech Center while alleviating some of the potential pressure on the Engler Boulevard interchange.

An interchange at County Road 140 was not considered when the plan for the Heights of Chaska was first unveiled in 2001. At that time, the hope of Highway 212’s construction was a running joke for those who had been working toward making it happen for more than four decades.

“Everything’s changed since then,” said Podhradsky.

COST

An interchange at County Road 140 would come with a price tag of $20 million to $30 million in infrastructure costs, Monk said. “This is a big deal all the way around,” he said.

Developers will likely bear the brunt of the costs in the form of assessments, but the city is prepared to move forward on the interchange even if developers are not yet ready to pull the trigger on their own projects.

“There are tools [for interchange funding],” said Podhradsky. “There are things we can do to allow development to catch up. But it really has to be collaboration for it to work real well.

“There’s got to be a comfort level there with the city and the land owners,” he added.

DOWNTOWN

In addition to bringing new residents and jobs, the city is hopeful that development of this area will help stimulate the downtown. Podhradsky said that the recently completed master plan for the downtown will play a part in shaping the master plan for southwest Chaska.

“This is one area of own to develop and achieve lots of goals,” said Podhradsky, of southwest Chaska.

“We want this to support and complement the downtown,” he said.

“Great care should be taken to design this to channel people downtown,” said Michael Broback, vice-chair of the Chaska Planning Commission. “The interchange is the most crucial aspect of the whole plan.”

“Putting that interchange there gives us a lot of value,” said Ringwald. “The importance of that cannot be understated.”

The next steps will be to begin work on the master plan and the comp plan amendment. Ringwald expects each item to take four to six months.

In the meantime, the planning commission will get its first look at that development application for the first piece of the Heights in March or April, Podhradsky said.
Comments
(3)
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Lja
|
March 02, 2012
Mollee: I am not asking for a complete rehash of our work session. I am giving you constructive advice that can add more interest to the reader had you limited the paid employees comments and instead integrated the very important comments made by members on the Council or appointment's to the Planning Commission.

Only publishing one Planning Commissioners comment is simply not enough. The room was filled with highly intelligent people and some of them made extraordinary comments. Those comments were left out. No rehashing, please. Just balance.

Readership wants to hear how we as Planning Commissioner's or elected City Council members are contributing to the making of a development.



Leanne Ashley
|
March 02, 2012
Mollee,

The article you wrote misrepresented the purpose of the meeting. We gathered as City Council Members and Planning Commissioners by invitation by the City Administrator, City Engineer, and The City Planner.

The goal was to gain insight and comments from the council and the planning commission. Your article only quoted one planning commissioner. However, here are some of the elected and appointed officials that were not mentioned in your article and had excellent input that you chose not to publish in your article: Mike Huang, Troy Miller,Dan Keyport, Alex Young, Tom Huges, Leanne Ashley,

Mayor - Mark Windschitl, Council Member Scott Millard - Ward 1. It is absolutely key to quote from those that 'serve' and are not PAID City of Chaska employees.

In the future, please respect those of us who serve, appointed or elected, by recording our input. We take the time to serve and are a voice for our community. It is necessary as a reporter to report what we said as a tool of communication to the community we serve as we look at developement with the City of Chaska.

Sincerely

Leanne Ashley

Planning Commissioner
Mollee_Francisco
|
March 02, 2012
Leanne, I have nothing but respect for those members of the community that volunteer their time to the city of Chaska, however, this piece was not written to be a complete rehash of the work session. It was written to give readers an update on the Heights and inform them about the possibility of an interchange at County Road 140. If you have further concerns, you are always welcome to contact me at mfrancisco@swpub.com.
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