Just a few years ago, new subdivisions were marching west from St. Charles through Campton Hills toward Lily Lake, a tiny community that lies almost at the center of Kane County. Pairing that movement with a burgeoning interest in building methods that have a lighter impact on the land, a group of developers devised a Lily Lake subdivision for a 276-acre parcel at Empire Road and Route 47 that they called Huntington Ridge.
“The goal was to be different from your run-of-the-mill subdivision,” says Marvin Vestuto, a St. Charles real-estate agent whose company was representing home lots at the site for the developers, a limited liability company whose members Vestuto declines to identify. “The future is in building green, and we were going that way with this [project].” Deep beneath the subdivision would be a geothermal pipeline that would help heat and cool the homes using the constant temperature from underground. Ponds and bioswales would manage storm water and reduce runoff from the neighborhood. A few commercial or retail buildings might have green roofs. About 113 acres of open space, threaded through with a bike path, would run around and between Huntington Ridge’s townhouses, single-family homes, and stores. In all, more than 40 percent of the parcel would be set aside as preserved land.
After about three years of preparation, the developers announced the launch of Huntington Ridge at what turned out to be the worst possible time: October 2008, when the housing market and the nation’s economy were sputtering. The developers found they couldn’t get financing from banks to go ahead with building the infrastructure that precedes house building, and the lending climate stayed frozen well into 2009. This fall the developers put the whole parcel up for sale—along with the plans they had drawn up and all legal work attached to it—with a price tag of $19.9 million. (Vestuto would not say what the developers had spent for the land, entitling, and other parts of the development process.)
The developers even started offering a bonus of $1 million to the agent who could bring in a successful buyer for the project. Yet the property still sits essentially empty, and there is a good chance it will still be in the same hands whenever homebuilding picks up again.
Huntington Ridge is certainly not the only project that stalled along with the economy. The planned subdivision has counterparts in Oak Brook, Yorkville, and Hampshire, where, as the Sun-Times reported, one family ended up living on a vast, empty parcel.
The difference is that Huntington Ridge might have become a model for a new, eco-positive way to build subdivisions in the sprawling outer reaches of the metropolis. “Everything was flowing that way, and we were going with it,” Vestuto says. But now, along with so many other construction projects, the green plans for Huntington Ridge are in limbo. “This is a fantastic project,” Vestuto says, “if we can get it moving.”