The idea of a massive development area between University Avenue and Interstate 80 in Waukee has lingered like the first scent of approaching rain during a dry summer. You know it's coming, but when and will it miss us?

For property owners and city planners and urban designers and engineers who have labored over this grand idea since the early 1990s, the first drops of rain arrived Dec. 1, when a unique interchange provided access to the 1,500-acre Kettlestone area, a land mass first envisioned for commercial and residential development in a Waukee comprehensive plan that was adopted in 1992.

And to carry out the metaphor for one last sentence, the rain was a soaker that whet the appetite for good days ahead. Here's a fact: On Dec. 1, between noon and midnight, 8,000 cars traveled Grand Prairie Parkway, the new road that winds through Kettlestone from the I-80 interchange to University Avenue.

City officials and developers agree that the number is a jaw-dropper. Just to double-check the number, another traffic count is scheduled for February.

But that number was an affirmation of two decades of planning and dreaming about something special that could be provided with city guidance and the willing partnership of landowners.

Among the landowners is Knapp Properties Inc. Company founder Bill Knapp started buying land in what would become Kettlestone back in the 1970s, President and CEO Gerry Neugent said. When the city of Waukee showed up to ask for land to build a road and an elaborate system of stormwater detention ponds, Knapp had accumulated about 110 acres.

Knapp turned over about 9 acres of land to the city. Other landowners, most of them holders of large tracts, did the same. In turn, the city spent millions of dollars building a stormwater system. Typically, developers are responsible stormwater detention on their land.

The city also crafted a master plan with special zoning areas and design requirements, all intended to lead to an orderly and aesthetic build-out of single-family residences, apartments and rowhouses, retail shops and office buildings over an estimated 30 years.

The first projects are underway. Kum & Go LC is building a convenience store at the interstate. Go north to the northern edge of Kettlestone at University, and a relative upstart, Caliber Iowa LLC, has teamed up with highly regarded Signature Real Estate Services of West Des Moines and Ames-based The Jensen Group for a residential and commercial development.

Jerry's Homes Inc. is building houses on the west edge of Kettlestone. Farther north on Hickman Road, movie theater entrepreneur Brian Fridley recently bought 15 acres where he plans to build a theater complex, and he could sell any land that is not used for that project. One of the triggers for the purchase, Fridley said, was the opening of Grand Prairie Parkway and ease of travel it provides to and from Waukee.

There is additional focus on a one-mile strip of land that borders Grand Prairie Parkway north and south of Ashworth Road, where initial plans indicate retail development on the west side of the road and office development with future retail on the east.

Knapp Properties has a large chunk of that land. Neugent said Waukee has provided a development opportunity unlike any other offered in Central Iowa.

"This is unique at least to the Central Iowa development community that I've been involved with," he said. "You just haven't seen this kind of proactive master planning before the first user was there or before the interchange was there."