Farmer’s daughter: “We want to control what happens on this land,” says Suzanne Casey, whose family is promomting the 48-house HighGrove experiment.

Suzanne Casey lives with her husband, Thomas, on the same piece of land in Kendall County that her family has farmed since 1848. Standing on a ridge along the Aux Sable Creek, she studies much the same landscape her predecessors saw: the curving stream, the flanking trees, the acres of flat, farmable land. “It’s not going to stay this way much longer,” Casey says, looking toward the suburban rooftops lining the eastern horizon a little more than two miles away. “Joliet, Oswego, Plainfield: they’re all growing toward us.”

Casey knows she can’t stop the expanding subdivisions, but she hopes to establish a bulwark against what her mother, JeanNette Beane, calls “the little cracker boxes.” In partnership with Beane, who lives next door, the Caseys have laid plans to transform 108 of the family’s 116.5 acres into an environmentally friendly residential development.

Called HighGrove, the development would arrange 48 houses on half-acre lots into clusters of three neighborhoods, with each cluster surrounding a 1.3-acre English garden. The northern 55 acres would go into conservancy, with ponds, prairie, and trails. Instead of a curb-and-gutter system, the property would employ swales and small holding pools; an advanced wastewater treatment facility would clean HighGrove’s wastewater and return it to the aquifer below. Construction of the first phase of the project—roads and 20 house lots—was scheduled to begin by the end of the summer.

“We want to control what happens on this land instead of just selling it off to somebody who will do whatever they want with it,” says Casey, a retired school administrator. (Her husband, also retired, ran a school bus company.) Her mother, who has lived on this farm since 1944, adds: “We know everything has to change, but if we want to have something nice left here, we have to be the ones to do something about it.” Beane and the Caseys will hang on to the eight and a half acres surrounding their homes, although the property might be included in HighGrove after their deaths, Casey says.

Lots are priced from $174,500 to $204,500; construction of a house will bring the total to between $600,000 and $1 million. Buyers can design their own home or build one of six custom-designed homes that resemble houses in England, the source of the Beane family and the name HighGrove. (Prince Charles has a lavishly eco-friendly estate by that name.) Either way, homeowners will be encouraged to use green roofs, geothermal heat, and solar energy.

The plan has been in the works for three years. “Kendall County fell in love with it,” says Anne Vickery, a member of the county board who formerly chaired its planning, building, and zoning committee. “We’re being pounded by the urban growth of Joliet, Oswego, and Plainfield, but here’s Suzanne Casey setting aside 50-plus acres and doing something that shows a lot of respect for the environment and the Aux Sable Creek. It’s going to be luscious.”

That is, if it becomes reality in this sluggish housing market. So far, two homeowners have reserved lots, and builders have bought two more. “We’re in the third year of what I used to say would be five years,” says Casey. “Now I think we need another five years.” 

Dale Lewis, a local general contractor whose Maple Leaf Properties has bought two lots, says he plans to buy several more as the project moves forward. He believes HighGrove is just what Kendall County needs since it can become a model of “how to control the growth when it gets to you.”

He’s not the only one. “The main thing we hope for is that it becomes contagious,” says Thomas Casey.

Photography: Chris Guillen