By CP Staff
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Chris Parker
By Jesse Marx
By John Baichtal
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Jesse Marx
By Olivia LaVecchia
When the trouble started, Walt Ripplinger had lived for more than 15 years on a leafy street in what's officially, if prosaically, known as Neighborhood Seven. It was the seventh cluster of pleasant, modest homes built in a 30-year-old Chaska development called Jonathan. Consisting of a number of intertwined subdivisions, it was a little white bread, but it was solidly middle class, the schools were good, and the housing surprisingly affordable.
Seven years ago, Ripplinger, who is half Lakota, decided he wanted to put up his family's tepee in his backyard. Because a homeowners' association governs Jonathan, he had to ask his neighbors for permission. "It's a very spiritual place," Ripplinger explains. "It's made in a circle. The Creator made things in a circle, no beginning, no end. The poles rest on Mother Earth and go up toward the sky, toward Grandfather. The smoke flaps are angled out like the arms of a human praying to the Creator."
His passion failed to move the residents of Neighborhood Seven, where the consensus was that the tepee was very, very big--18 feet wide and 26 feet tall--and completely out of place. Still, no one wanted to tell Ripplinger he couldn't worship as he pleased, and so after some back and forth the association offered a compromise. He could erect the lodge six times a year for 48 hours at a time.
Ripplinger was well known around Chaska for leading the charge against the desecration of some Indian burial mounds in a downtown park. That he would find the neighborhood group's decision unacceptable was a foregone conclusion.
But it didn't matter whether the neighbors were being fair. When he bought his house, Ripplinger had automatically agreed to Jonathan's rules about what residents can and can't do with their property. Chief among them: Only the smallest and most discreet of structures are allowed in yards in Jonathan, and even those must pass muster with an archi- tectural review committee.
All the years he'd lived in Neighborhood Seven, Ripplinger had known he belonged to the association, but beyond a little grumbling every year when he wrote out a check for $207 to cover his dues, he had seen little cause to think about it. "I didn't really like it," he says. "But I thought, 'Well, if they leave me alone, I'll leave them alone.'" He never considered that he might be agreeing to a whole new--and much narrower--set of rights.
There are now an estimated quarter of a million homeowner associations in the United States, governing details large and small of the lifestyles of as many as 50 million people. Researchers say master-planned developments with associations are by far the fastest-growing segment of the housing industry. Indeed, it's increasingly hard to find new suburban housing that is not run by a homeowner association. As one scholar puts it, it's the most dramatic privatization of government services in the nation's history--a sea change that has taken place with virtually no public debate.
Ripplinger left the lodge in storage and started trying to convince his neighbors to help him get rid of the association altogether. He quickly discovered that the homeowners' organization wasn't a typical association, with its limited arena of concerns. Like the residents' groups in many suburban subdivisions, the Jonathan Association was supposed to enforce rules about garbage and basketball hoops and exactly which paint chips and siding samples are earth tone and which are pastel. But it also had roots in a grandiose experiment in social engineering.
Jonathan was started as part of the New Town movement of the 1960s and '70s, an experiment in utopian urban planning. The New Towns were conceived as an alternative to the sprawling, sterile kind of suburb then colonizing cornfields and canyon lands all over the country. People were supposed to live, work, and play within a single, ecologically healthy city-within-a-city. Pedestrians were to trump cars; wooded walkways led to schools and the community center. Sure, the homeowners' association would look after approved paint colors, but its real purpose was to maintain amenities, virtually unknown at the time, like tot-lots and groomed trails that were supposed to draw people out of their homes into common areas. There, the theory was, they would form real community.
It was a pipe dream, but one that has turned out to be surprisingly enduring for homeowners--and more profitable for real estate developers than anyone could ever have imagined.
At first Ripplinger giggled at the plan's hippie-dippy ethos, its grandiose goal of making love, not war, at the neighborhood level. The ideas were quaint, he thought, but the experiment was over, the dream had obviously failed to materialize, and he wanted to decide for himself how to spend his $207 in yearly dues. He campaigned for a seat on the association board on a platform that promised to dissolve the residents' group, and won. He was, he says now, utterly clueless about what he was dealing with.
In 1963, Julius Smith was fresh out of law school and working in a small but respected law firm in downtown Chaska, where his duties included practicing a bit of municipal law for the town. One day Smith got a visit from the head of the Metropolitan Planning Commission, who told him that Henry T. McKnight--heir to a logging and milling fortune, successful real estate developer, and a state senator--wanted to see him.
Smith is now a successful developer himself, and a longtime member of the Metropolitan Council. Back then, however, he was a kid who didn't come from money, and the command performance made him nervous. He donned his best suit and drove out to McKnight's estate. There he found the gentleman farmer clad in shorts and boots, naked from the waist up--and seemingly interested only in giving Smith a tour. Smith's best shoes were muddy and his suit plastered with burrs before McKnight worked up to what was on his mind. Eventually, he took the young lawyer down to the basement of his farmhouse (now the clubhouse for Deer Run golf course), which was crammed with books and files on urban planning. McKnight rooted around and produced an enormous map.
"Jules," he said, "how would you like to help me build a new town?"
If Smith thought the older man was a little crazy, he had yet to hear the whole of it. McKnight didn't just mean a new town, as in from scratch, he meant a New Town: an experimental, utopian community of 50,000 that would rise in perfect harmony with nature on a parcel of land bounded north-south by highways 5 and 212, and east-west by the towns of Waconia and Victoria. It would encompass most of Chaska, McKnight explained, and would take as its model the so-called New Towns of Europe: model communities drawn up in an attempt to ensure that the suburban sprawl that followed WWII on the Euro-continent was orderly and pleasant.
McKnight had visited some of Europe's New Towns, and he came home vowing to replicate them. He had long since made his own millions in real estate, but his passion was environmental conservation. By all accounts, the New Towns represented to McKnight a way to resolve the contradictions in his life.
To that end, he had quietly bought up land for more than a decade, and now he needed help securing many more parcels. McKnight wanted Smith to quit his law firm and go to work buying land in other people's names. "That was a Tuesday," Smith recalls. "On Friday, I was sitting in Richmond, Virginia, with McKnight, [his assistant], and the vice president of Honeywell and others. We were trying to use an out-of-town law firm to keep it a secret."
Around the same time, as it happened, a former head of the U.S. Golf Association, Totton P. Heffelfinger, was trying to build Hazeltine National Golf Club in the same area McKnight had his eyes on. As Smith describes it, investors in both projects saw the possibility for synergy immediately: Sewers and water lines, always the biggest cost in any new development, would have to be run north to Hazeltine from Chaska, up over a hill that contained some of McKnight's land. Starting the project there would save everyone money and would assure the new community a fabulous first amenity of a sort since copied by builders of "fairway homes" in Brooklyn Park, Blaine, and hundreds of other communities across the country.
The town was to be named after an early Carver County explorer named Jonathan Carver. Master plans called for a "megacenter" in the middle of the town where residents could get on a commuter rail line that would whisk them to jobs in the central cities. Five villages would surround the core, each of them slated for 10,000 eventual residents. Industrial parks outside the villages would provide more jobs and strengthen the tax base.
Among the key attractions for young families, there would be beaches, kids' play structures, and other amenities then unknown in more typical suburban developments. In fact, a then-unheard-of 30 percent of the land would be set aside as open space so that residents could share a network of trails and parks.
"McKnight also has an idea about how to get a man properly sent off on a business trip," the Minneapolis Star reported--without a trace of irony--in 1967. "He steps into a canoe from the landing at his back door, and his wife paddles him to a quayside restaurant in the town center. They have lunch, he rides an elevator to the rooftop heliport and he's off to the supersonic transport at the airport. But that is in the more distant future."
Jonathan would offer all this to homebuyers by reducing development costs. At the time, suburbia boasted two main styles of housing: pricey houses on big lots of increasingly scarce open land, and long rows of cheap little identical houses built as close together as possible. The plan in Jonathan was to break that mold--clustering several houses to a parcel as in the cookie-cutter 'burbs, but devoting the rest of the acreage to greenbelts and commons areas. In addition to breaking up the monotony people had come to loathe about suburbia, the scheme had the advantage of containing construction costs. Accordingly, homes could be offered to people with a variety of incomes.
In the interest of promoting both rational suburban growth and affordable housing, Congress in 1968 passed a sweeping law called the New Communities Act. Now, the U.S. government would reimburse half the costs of the new town's infrastructure and, more significantly, would guarantee bonds to finance the construction.
Developers were lined up for the money, though, and Smith recalls spending a lot of time wooing the various bureaucrats who held the purse strings. At one point, a delegation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development descended on Chaska to scrutinize McKnight's plans. Things were going well, Smith recalls, when McKnight suddenly invited the delegation to his farmhouse for lunch. McKnight's partners groaned.
True to form, McKnight was half-naked and perched astride a tractor when his visitors arrived. He led the functionaries down to a lake on his property where McKnight's wife, Grace, had draped tables with white cloths and set out wine and cheese and apples. "It was gorgeous," Smith recalls. "A scene right out of Renoir. For years afterward every time I went to Washington people would bring it up."
In 1970, Jonathan became the first of 13 new towns to receive assistance under the new law. (Minneapolis's long-derided Cedar-Riverside high-rise apartment towers--then envisioned as a "town within a town"--also got funding from the same program.) Planners from prestigious firms around the country quit their jobs to come build Jonathan. The Washington Post kept abreast of construction. Newsweek raved about the plan. People started moving in, some lured from as far afield as California. To hear the first residents talk, it was the start of an every-night block party.
Neighborhood Two, which was to have some of the nicest houses, also ended up with some of the boldest experiments, sponsored by the Stanford Research Institute, General Electric, and other companies. Ralph Rapson, the architect who designed the Guthrie Theater and Cedar-Riverside, was commissioned to build an Idea House topped by inverted trusses and featuring all sorts of then-futuristic gadgets such as a trash compactor.
The neighborhood also contains several "modular" houses designed to grow and shrink with a family. When the owners had kids, they could just order new rooms from the factory; when they became empty-nesters, they could simply send back the surplus space. There are tall, narrow "tree houses," numerous A-frames, and a "tsunami house" built by some Japanese visitors. Many homes were connected by a community information system, a very early internet precursor that, among other things, allowed Jonathanites to be "seen" via a system of cameras and monitors, by doctors at the hospital in Waconia.
And then, in November 1972, McKnight underwent surgery for a brain tumor. When he died the following month at the age of 59, Jonathan had grown to 1,500 residents, 30 industrial tenants, and retailers employing 800. The timing couldn't have been worse. The country had been plunged into a recession and the housing market had collapsed. HUD was inexplicably refusing to spend much of the money Congress had allocated to the new towns, and federal mortgage officials were grumbling that the experimental communities didn't look enough like typical subdivisions.
"Ah, Jonathan, you were such a big, beautiful test-tube baby," Newsweek intoned. "But you may never make it to 1990."
The critics were half right: Smith and a string of investors managed to keep the dream alive for three years, but by 1976, Jonathan had run out of money and HUD foreclosed.
Fast-forward 33 years. Exurbia has marched right up to Jonathan's fringes and is blowing past it, chewing up horse farms and apple orchards to the south and west at a rate almost without compare in the rest of the country. Carver County is one of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the nation. (Scott County, located next door, is the 12th-fastest-growing.) Since 1990, Carver County's population has nearly doubled to 82,000 people, many of them young families. The number is expected to hit 141,020 by the year 2030. Most of the growth is taking place in Chaska and its neighbors, Chanhassen and Victoria.
It's hard to spend time in the sea of taupe and ecru subdivisions lining the road to Jonathan without concluding that in the end, McKnight simply handed the real estate industry a playbook of ways to make more money. Consider the house at 9445 Riley Lake Road in Eden Prairie, for sale in June at a listed price of $829,900. Located four and a half miles east of Jonathan, it's perched just over the border between Carver and Hennepin counties. The address is prestigious: It's just across the road from the exclusive gated community of Bearpath, and not far from the sparkling waters of Lake Riley.
The house itself has a stone and shake facade, Craftsman detailing, and 4,401 finished square feet of living space. When it was brand-new, a year ago, it sold for $100,000 less than it's listed at now. At half a million less than other homes in the same subdivision, however, it's still a relative bargain.
In many ways it's the antithesis of Jonathan. The house sits three doors off Pioneer Trail, essentially a two-lane highway and one of two main routes into Carver County. At certain times of the day, it's as noisy on its diminutive front porch as it is in Uptown. The home's footprint takes up much of the third of an acre lot, so adjacent houses are just a few feet away. The smallish backyard abuts the backyards of several other houses, each of which sports its own wooden kids' playscape. The general impression is of a place someone commutes home to, driving into the three-car garage, lowering the automatic door, and not leaving again until morning.
It's this way along much of Pioneer Trail. A little farther east is another development, Enclave II, where two or three older homes were recently torn down to make way for a handful of "twinhomes" starting at $699,000. The houses have fancy wooden doors, pewter-finished fixtures, and stonework; they're being built in twos around Enclave Circle, a cul-de-sac that rings a lawn and gazebo. Between the entrance and the busy road a fountain rises out of a small pond.
According to Evan McKenzie, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois who writes critically about planned communities, one can draw a straight line from McKnight's dream to the marketing plans behind developments like these.
"Americans have this idea that you can get away from ills, from the problems of other people, if you can get a fresh start," explains McKenzie. "This is a deep-seated utopian dream. It's a very powerful drive that developers have learned to tap into. They're no longer selling houses; they're now selling community. Developers are encouraging people subtly to think that they're starting over with a whole new group of people, that they're getting away from a lot of things."
Buyers count on the New Towns' most enduring, and troublesome, legacy--the homeowners' association--to keep the new neighborhood from looking like the old one. Usually established by means of legal covenants that restrict the terms of a property's use, associations do everything from maintaining streets to organizing trash collection to governing what color owners can paint their garages, whether sheds or decks are allowed, and whether one can park a car or a boat in the driveway. Some even dictate whether residents can have pets, guests, or children. One key selling point is that these rules will keep the neighbors' bad taste--or bad luck--from endangering one's own property values.
"Most people's home is their major investment," notes McKenzie. "People are betting on the price of their home going up very, very quickly right now. Often, prices are so high people are relying on variable-rate mortgages or interest-only loans to buy houses. So the only way to increase the amount of equity they have is for the value of the house to go up. The perceived value of those covenants is that they will help to enforce that value. Homeowner associations make this a fungible commodity. You can go from one place to another and believe that the homeowners' association will take care of things."
The rise of these "residential private governments" is the subject of McKenzie's 1994 book Privatopia. In it, he argues that association-controlled developments increasingly do the opposite of what McKnight and the other futurists predicted: Instead of creating mixed and egalitarian communities, they help to entrench class divisions.
The book quotes then-U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who labeled this trend the "secession of the successful": "In many cities and towns, the wealthy have in effect withdrawn their dollars from the support of public spaces and institutions shared by all, and dedicated their savings to their own private services." Adds McKenzie: "Condominiums and the omnipresent residential communities dun their members to undertake work that financially strapped local governments can no longer afford to do well--maintaining roads, mending sidewalks, pruning trees, repairing street lights, cleaning swimming pools, paying for lifeguards and, notably, hiring security guards to protect life and property."
Bell Curve author Charles Murray is also quoted in Privatopia, fretting about associations' influence in creating "a caste society" in which rich Americans will come to view cities as "the internal equivalent of Indian reservations--places of deprivation and dysfunction for which they have no responsibility."
It's no accident that the rise of the association goes hand in glove with the fantasy of starting over. "These are efforts to create instant communities that avoid the kind of randomness that neighborhoods acquire when they develop organically," McKenzie says. "If you have 10 different neighborhoods, you might have one that draws people who mow their lawns and one that draws people who park cars on their lawns and leave refrigerators in the backyard.
"In these neighborhoods there are no old-timers, no norms, they're all newcomers. No one knows anyone," he continues. "Individual buyers are trading away their freedom to do what they want with their property in exchange for assurance that the neighbors can't do whatever they want to do with theirs."
In the 25 years between Henry McKnight's death and Walt Ripplinger's abortive attempt to put up his tepee, Jonathan grew slowly and steadily. Scrapbooks kept at the old brick farmhouse where the association's offices are located suggest that the new town's first decade was as vibrant as hoped. Celebratory photographs from the era abound--pictures of ice-cream socials, three-legged races, and festivals marking each season and every conceivable holiday. There were consciousness-raising groups, values-formation classes, street dances. The Renaissance Festival was born in Jonathan, on land where the developers weren't yet ready to build. (Today Jules Smith owns International Renaissance Festivals, which also operates fairs in Maryland and Ontario.)
"This street partied continuously," recalls Linda Frey, who bought the second-to-last house built in Neighborhood Six. "We were always getting together. The neighbor across the street used to hold big corn feeds." A retired air traffic controller who grew up in Iowa, Frey lived in Whittier and Bloomington before she and her husband moved to Jonathan.
"We came out and looked and we liked the idea behind it," she says. "It was regulated. They would not allow the house next door to be painted purple. There were no junky cars in driveways getting worked on. You never have to cross a busy street because all the paths go under the streets. Of course now all developments have that, but then it was new. Plus all the trees.
"It seemed so simple," Frey adds. "Earth tones, clean lines, two-car garages, and enough driveways that cars weren't parked on the street."
After a decade, though, it became clear that neither the futuristic design nor the system of legal covenants was enough to guarantee domestic harmony. By about 1980, Frey and other original Jonathan residents say, the party was pretty much over. By then most women had moved into the workforce, and families were too busy to plan the get-togethers. To make matters more tenuous, the original housing stock began to run down, and newcomers who knew nothing of McKnight's communalist dream began moving in.
Jonathan's legal structure is extraordinarily complicated. While most of the land in any given portion of the massive original parcel may be sold to a particular developer to build on and resell, the Jonathan Association owns land within each section of the whole. McKnight and his partners attached the same covenants to all of the land in the beginning. Consequently, all homeowners, regardless of when their houses were built, are automatically dues-paying Jonathan members. The association, in turn, is responsible for the upkeep of the common areas, which it owns.
Early on, several residents filed lawsuits alleging that their dues (then $50 a year) were too high. Association staff, meanwhile, strained to figure out how to maintain aging facilities on a meager budget. Some original residents recall a time when Jonathan seemed overrun by busybodies who had nothing better to do but traverse neighborhoods looking for possible rule violations.
Elaine Ward moved into one of the nice houses on King's Way, just down from the Idea House. For a while, she says, her husband didn't want to pay dues. The owner of a house down the street had left an old washer in the driveway for too long, he thought. When it was clear no one from the association was going to do anything, her husband spoke to the man. There was another episode involving a boat in a yard. There was conflict over how strictly the association should enforce the rules.
Ward remembers a struggle in one neighborhood over what to do about a trash house. No one seemed to know where the association's authority ended and the city of Chaska's began. "Meanwhile the neighborhood was looking worse and worse," says Ward. In the end, the owner of the garbage house agreed to a stipulation that he had created a health hazard, and the city allowed him to move into a double-wide trailer while they tore the house down.
Such breakdowns in homeowner association governance are fairly common, according to Evan McKenzie. "For the first few years, while the developer is building, the developer controls the rules. They're still selling homes," he points out, and thus retain a stake in keeping things looking a certain way. When the developer leaves, however, residents sometimes end up with ugly surprises, ranging from sticker shock over the true cost of the upkeep to whole new sets of covenants.
"This is about money. It's a form of private government," says McKenzie. "This is not just about the color of mailboxes. This is about how you are going to finance the upkeep of the community. People are paying these assessments, and if it's not enough the associations have to go back to the residents. They often have to raise money very quickly through large special assessments."
It's a lot of usually thankless work, says McKenzie. "So you end up with either these salt of the earth types running it, or lunatic control freaks." City inspectors and county tax collectors can start to seem appealingly organized and efficient.
Marsh Halberg moved his young family to Jonathan in 1979. An attorney, he quickly got involved with trying to make the association work. He found literally drawers full of covenants and bylaws, but very little to work with in terms of how to go about enforcing the rules.
"The controls were pretty vague," says Halberg. "When we say we control things aesthetically, for instance, what your house looks like, what does that mean?" For a while, it meant that basketball hoops had to be painted the same color as the houses, he says--until someone decided the rule was practically unenforceable in any case.
"We have issues you can't imagine, like satellite dishes. They didn't have satellite dishes in the '70s," he says. "We tried to have uniform rules, we tried to make it not clique-y. But it was an enormous commitment of time, volunteering to be on the board. It was every night."
When Walt Ripplinger tried to put up his tepee, he opened Pandora's box. It was as if he had unleashed years of frustrations over when and why the rules could be bent or changed. In the years that followed, there would be battles over whether to rebuild a community center that had burned down years before, what to do about homeowners who refuse all requests to mow their lawns or police their weeds, and, most acrimoniously, whether to make an exception to the rule against building perimeter fences for a woman with an autistic child.
Ripplinger and two other unhappy residents formed the Jonathan Research Group and ran for seats on the nine-member association board on a platform of promising to dissolve the organization. After they won, Ripplinger convinced the local cable company to start broadcasting board meetings. Someone was recruited to scrutinize the financial ledgers. They went door-to-door and surveyed residents. Attendance soared so dramatically that association elections had to be held at Chaska's City Hall. Letters about seemingly picayune spats started to fill column after column in the Chaska Herald.
Three more anti-association candidates were elected the following year, and the new majority elected Ripplinger board chair. He laughs about it now, saying he didn't know it, but he had hoisted himself on his own petard. The association's paid director resigned and Ripplinger had to take over the job for six months. He was plunged into the minutiae of Jonathan's fiscal ledger. Trails had to be seal-coated. Two new mail stations had to be built, something the U.S. Postal Service is terribly picky about. After all those years of being angry about his dues, he found himself spending a lot of his neighbors' money.
"What happened to me," Ripplinger says now, "is while I was the executive director, I had the opportunity to get in the golf cart and drive around and see the conditions," he says. "I got to talk to a lot of unhappy residents, but I also got to talk to a lot of happy people and see a whole lot of things that had once been beautiful and had gone to seed.
"One day I was going down a trail and saw a tot-lot full of kids just having a ball." Ripplinger's face lights up. "Their moms were watching from their backyards. And I said, 'Do we really want to destroy this? This is a community.' It was an eye-opening experience to see that we need community--and it needs certain rules and strong leadership, or it will run amok."
Ripplinger tried to convert the critics he'd helped elect to the board, but says the rhetoric and name-calling just got worse. After a while, he resigned from the Jonathan Research Group. He stayed on the association board, though, and started trying to find practical compromises to the problems that had surfaced in the wake of the tepee issue. After months of wangling, the board and a new association staff have come up with a solution to the fence debate that everyone seems at peace with. He just began his third three-year term on the board.
"I think Mr. McKnight's idea was a bit grandiose. He was reaching for a community that's perfect, and that was just a dream," Ripplinger says. "What's left, with the right changes at the right time, it can be a wonderful place. But you can't rush into it."
If there is an afterlife, McKnight is doubtless laughing himself right off of his celestial tractor. In 2001, ground was broken on Jonathan's western flank for a development billed as the answer to suburbia's ills. Clover Ridge was to contain 250 acres of single-family homes, apartment buildings, townhouses, an elementary school, a commercial district, and parkland. Modular housing, along with smaller lots and higher density, would keep prices down.
The design would be of a school directly descended from the New Town movement, "New Urbanism." Houses would have front porches, and the neighborhoods would feature alleys and tree-lined boulevards. The widely lauded plan garnered plenty of attention, as well as a $1 million Livable Communities grant from the Metropolitan Council.
A recent afternoon found Jules Smith meandering up and down Clover Ridge's unfinished streets, pointing out places where the New Urbanism has ended up looking a lot like the old suburbanism. He steered his Navigator down the subdivision's main drag past rows of modular homes sporting dainty porch railings and lemon-colored siding. At the end of the entry street, a traffic roundabout rings a strange-looking beige stone obelisk. To one side is an elementary school; to another, a big square apartment building. Branching out from the roundabout are rows of nondescript houses.
Smith is disappointed. In older parts of Jonathan, the backyards melt into parks and greenbelts, so the architectural guidelines spell out what all four sides of each home should look like. These houses, by contrast, are designed for "curb appeal"--that is, to look their best when viewed from a car. The fronts of many of the houses have some old-fashioned details, but on many the sides and backs are flat and unadorned. The common areas lack swing sets, climbers, and trees.
According to the Chaska Herald, the original plan for Clover Ridge proved too expensive. The first developer didn't anticipate how high construction costs would be, or how much up-front capital would be required. Home prices crept upward nonetheless. A nonprofit is now building the affordable rentals, and plans for triplexes, carriage houses, and other elements of "true new urbanism" were jettisoned. (Even with the changes, Chaska remains one of only a handful of suburbs regularly lauded by regional planners for its efforts to welcome lower- and middle-class residents.)
In January, Chaska annexed the adjacent 1,200-acre Chaska Township. Revised plans--again concocted with help from the Met Council--call for the construction of 3,500 homes on 700 of those acres. The development is billed as pedestrian-friendly, with paths connecting housing to village centers, parks, and schools. Higher density will keep prices down. By 2007, the expansion of Highway 212, which runs southwest from Eden Prairie along Jonathan's southern rim, should reach the area, which is tentatively named the Heights of Chaska.
City Pages news intern Anne Torkelson contributed research for this story.