When will this county stop bowing at the feet of Illinois developers who wish to turn our rural, recreational countryside into an extension of their crowded, congested suburbia? A new week, a new Shodeen development on the front page of the newspaper. A new promise that this development is needed and exciting, that this plan to turn a corn field into a mirror image Hoffman Estates is just what we hayseeds of Walworth Township need. Sadly, the development is none of that and should be unceremoniously and quickly dismissed before the first angry townhall meeting (January 5th, be there) is held.
The development, according to the snippets of information that have been released, is to consist of 120 homes on the North end of Walworth Township. This is intentionally vague, as the real plan likely includes the future development of adjacent lands, bringing the total homes to somewhere between 200-300 new homes (or duplexes, condominiums, etc, this is not for sure, just a common sense opinion based on adjacent lands). The Illinois developers have promised us that this will be a “conservation community”. They must not realize that we know conservation community is a disingenuous label. It’s a zoning term that implies high density with some paths of grass, but mostly it’s a marketing label that developers use to pacify township boards. If conservation is the goal, then the developer should plant native prairie on the entire parcel and turn it over to the municipality for use as a park. We can walk our dogs there and watch the wildflowers bloom. I’ll donate the first bag of seed. But conservation is never the goal, it’s just a simple buzzword that developers use to placate us simpletons who live in the sticks. It’s also a word that describes a development with horrible clusters of high density, intermixed with some trivial open lands that the developer wasn’t going to be allowed to use anyway.
Shodeen currently has 623 planned units in Delavan Township. Hundreds more wished for on the south end of Walworth, in Walworth Township, and perhaps thousands in the lush fields south of town in the Big Foot Prairie. (Exactly how many units are going where is uncertain to me.) There’s also the new 18 Townhome development overlooking the post office in Fontana. But what they say we need is even more development, because, because- growth! And apparently the rich agricultural fields of Walworth Township is where they think we deserve subdivision after subdivision so we can be indistinguishable from the developers Illinois hometowns.
There’s some odd adherence to a belief that this county needs continual population growth. Why? We live in the country because we love the country. We moved out of the city and into these townships because we wanted our neighbors to be the cows and the roosters and the sunsets over wide fields of corn. We didn’t move to the country to wait for the developers plow to come and provide us with the sort of housing that a Chicago consulting firm determined our planning commissions would likely approve. We didn’t move here so a developer can make millions of dollars while destroying our sweeping countryside views and stealing our quiet with new homes and bulldozing in roads where there previously were none. From 1963 to 2000, 22,971 acres of farm land in Walworth County has been lost to development. Isn’t that enough?
There are many thousands of plotted, vacant lots in this county. Residential Lots, not farmers fields. Actual platted lots in subdivisions that developers dreamt up, petitioned for, aggressively built, and marketed for sale. These subdivisions were needed, the developers said. The demand is palpable, they told us. Really? Please consider the following:
Woodstone 42 “conservation” lots in Linn. Only 10 homes built in the last 10 years. 76% vacant.
Meadowview 35 “conservation” lots in Linn. Only 3 homes built 91% vacant.
Bailey Estates approximately 190 platted lots walk distance to Williams Bay school, city water and sewer. 28 built homes in almost 10 years. 85% vacant.
Whitetail Ridge 25 “conservation” lots in Walworth. 9 built in almost 10 years. 64% vacant.
Cliffs of Fontana. 66 lots in Fontana, walking distance to the lake. 14 built in almost 10 years, no word how many are specs or otherwise unoccupied. 79% vacant.
Walworth Prairie. 69 lots in Walworth, walking distance to school and downtown. 4 built properties, including sales center. 94% vacant.
96 approved units Townhall Road. Previously town of Walworth, annexed to Fontana. Sitting vacant, unbuilt, undeveloped. Just waiting to flood the market with more inventory. 100% vacant.
Darien Ponds. 61 platted lots in Darien, walking distance to town. 9 built homes. 85% vacant.
Prairie View. 98 platted lots, walking distance to Williams Bay school, city water and sewer. 43 built in nearly 10 years. 56% vacant.
Troy Hill Estates. 6 built homes. Today, there are 48 vacant lots. At the current absorption rate, the development should be filled to capacity in the next 48 years.
Sugar Creek Preserve. 52 lots, 10 built homes (including one under construction currently). There are 42 vacant lots that are empty today. The 10 built homes were completed over the past 10 years, which tells us that we have only 42 years left before the vacant lots are filled with happy homeowners.
The Oaks of Delavan Lake. 16 lots, conservation style. Today, there are 2 homes built. There are 14 vacant lots in this lovely development. At the torrid absorption rate of 1 home every 4 years, the development should be full of happy homeowners in 56 short years.
Sharon Green. There are 32 lots in this subdivision, with 3 built homes. Not all is lost, however, as a farmer has been farming the vacant lots and bails of hay now line the single cul-de-sac road, and those hay bails do lend a nice country vibe to the empty subdivision. With 3 homes built in 10 years, it will only be another 96 years before the development is full.
Highfield Glen on Stateline Road (Walworth Township) was proposed in the early 2000s and completed in 2003. That’s just about 13 years ago. It’s a beautiful cul-de-sac, fully wooded, for 100% privacy of both the residents, and the township neighbors. The lots were in demand, they said, and so the town approved a subdivision of 15 lots. Since 2003 there have been 4 homes built. If you know anyone looking for a vacant lot in Walworth Township, there are 11 of them over in Highfield Glen. Two were foreclosed on. Growth is good, except there’s no growth when there are no buyers.
Current Town of Walworth Market Statistics: 16 available single family homes per MLS. Average lot size of those 16 homes is 9.64 acres.
And there are many, many others already approved and platting and sitting vacant. This ignores all of the examples in Elkhorn, Lake Geneva, and outlying townships. These figures are approximate, but represent a startling truth. Overdevelopment is an epidemic, and it’s one that our planning commissions have caused by siding with developers rather than the constituents that they were elected to serve.
The zoning boards and neighbors and those in position of some authority felt they needed to comply, because growth, they’ve been told, is good. What they failed to understand is that growth is determined only by demand. The demand, as evidenced by these examples (there are many more), is no where to be found. We built it, and they didn’t come. And if they didn’t come during the largest housing boom in history, why would they come now on the heels of a soft recovery with the promise of rising interest rates looming on the near horizon? The questions are rhetorical, because the answer is obvious to everyone who isn’t a greedy developer. Basic market studies would show the townships and county board that currently there are more than 771 vacant Walworth County lots listed in the MLS. There are many more listed for sale by owner. More still when you consider most developments will not list every available lot in the MLS, keeping some back to show less daunting inventory totals. It isn’t a stretch to assume there are more than 1300 vacant lots for sale in Walworth County today. How many does the MLS tell us sold last year? 154. That means we have at least eight years of market inventory now, not counting the approved developments that have not yet been started (likely around two thousand or more vacant parcels that are coming soon). Not counting the platted lots that are not on the market now but assuredly will be. What reasonable person could read these actual statistics and suggest we need more housing?
From a market perspective, unnecessary, superfluous development puts downward pressure on existing homes, and discourages the improvement of the existing housing stock. Why remodel what’s already built when there’s always another corn field about to be bulldozed? There are more than 1300 built homes and condominiums available in the MLS today, which means we could sustain years (a decade?) of growth by just absorbing our current built inventory.
Unwarranted, unnecessary development changes the nature of a community, and I do not recall the Walworth Township Referendum wherein we all voted to trade our farm fields for tract homes. If every development proposed was to be constructed in the backyards of those on the planning commissions, no development would ever be approved. This new Shodeen proposal is in my back yard, a back yard that I love dearly. The back yard that I built my family home on, the backyard that should be protected by adjacent Agricultural Zoning. If I had a vote, I’d vote no, this is obvious. But I’d vote no because I know that Illinois developers do not speak for this county, and I’d vote no regardless of whose backyard the development seeks to destroy.
To my Walworth County loving friends and elected board members, this development is a problem that we can fix before it even begins. Tell them no. If they don’t listen, tell them no again. I hear Schaumburg would love 120 new homes. Contact the Town of Walworth and Walworth County offices to let your voice be heard, before we have another farm field welcoming homebuyers that don’t exist. Let’s keep Walworth County Rural.
Email or call 262-275-9800 to register opposition
An interesting rebuttal of my opposition came to light today. I was asked by an individual if I had indeed tried to buy some of this development parcel in the past, and if the fact that I was turned down by the owner has something to do with my opposition. This is, of course, absurd. I did indeed offer to buy a part of this A-2 land, and was indeed turned down. The reason for my offer? I wished to preserve the land as farm land. Far from making that a conflict of interest, it proves my interest was aligned with conservation of larger parcels of land, before any development was proposed.
The following details have been sent to all board members. I encourage everyone to contact Walworth County, the Town of Walworth, and their respective municipalities and share this information. These officials need to be reminded of the list of subdivisions that they should have never approved. Thanks, David
This development wasn’t always called Walworth Prairie. In 2007, when it was approved by the Village of Walworth, it was called Windmill Prairie. The development is adjacent to the village of Walworth, with city water and sewer and easy access to Highway 14 and 67. It is a stone’s throw from the Walworth Elementary School, and a short five minute walk to Big Foot High School. It is walking distance to all of downtown Walworth. This is the sort of development that deserved to be approved because it followed the county guidelines for smart growth. It is close to town, close to school, close to everything. It’s affordable, it’s convenient, and it followed the smart geographic growth plan for any municipality- it’s adjacent to the established community.
In 2010, this proximity didn’t matter much and the developer failed. The bank took back the sagging silt fences and tattered signage, and for four years the property sat empty, ugly, unwanted. In 2014, a new developer bid on the defunct plot of land, and everyone was super excited to see this development move forward. It’s now the end of 2015, and the only progress in the development has been the addition of some curb and gutter work, which should attract throngs of homebuyers in no time.
I’m unsure exactly how many lots exist here, as there are varying accounts. The PDF from the developer’s website says 69 lots, so let’s assume that’s correct. There are four duplexes built, of varying obsolescence. Since 2007, the development has, for the sake of this formula, built 4 residences (no word if they are occupied). There are 65 vacant. At this clip, we should see Walworth/Windmill Prairie reach 100% occupancy in approximately 130 years. Remember, this is a 69 lot subdivision with city water and sewer, next to the school, where kids can walk and ride their bikes to town. Shodeen has proposed 123 homes (first phase, the entire development will likely expand to somewhere between 200-300 homes). If 69 lots in town next to the school and ballfields can’t sell, you know what can? 250 small lots next to nothing.
This development was the right development for Walworth. It was next to town, next to transportation, next to the schools. It was the perfect subdivision. And yet it failed, miserably. I would suggest that any homebuyer seeking a small subdivision lot in the Walworth area would much rather live next to a park, where their kids can walk to school in the mornings and home again the afternoon, rather than in a rural location where they can walk to nowhere. Then again, the nice thing about walking to nowhere is that the walk is very short. The lots, it should be noted, are on average, some 30% larger than the “conservation” lots at the soon to be turned down Shodeen Development on North Walworth Road.
The Ponds of Darien
People love ponds. The Hilmoor would-be-developer was so enamored with ponds that he told the city of Lake Geneva that if he couldn’t build his pond, then he wouldn’t buy Hilmoor (the wise city of Lake Geneva board just turned him down because even they know that not every development is a good idea). In 2005, Darien was bustling. It had a new library and a thriving agricultural base. As a meaningful aside, if you looked at the town of Walworth from the sky and then looked at the Village of Darien, you’d see two very similar municipalities. Ground was broken in 2005 for this new 61 home subdivision, on land immediately adjacent to the developed village. The new subdivision would be nice, with city water and sewer, walking distance to town. Less than a mile to the Elementary School, and just 1.2 miles to Highway 43, for easy commuter access. Quickly, four homes were built. The lots average 90’ in width (Shodeen wants to jam 70’ lots down our throats, which shows how much he respects/understands the historical density of our town).
In 2009, the developer bailed on the failing project, and the bank took it back. It is now owned by the same developer who is seeking to revitalize Windmill Prairie, the failed development that we learned about earlier this week. Today there are 9 built homes in The Ponds Of Darien. There are 52 empty lots, 10 years after the development first displayed a FOR SALE sign. At the current break-neck-pace, it’ll be another 52 years before the tranquil sounding Ponds of Darien is at 100% occupancy.
Shodeen has 623 units coming soon to a corn field near Delavan, and I have a most novel idea. Let’s wait a decade or two (or three or four) so we can see how well that turns out before we welcome the destruction of yet another high yielding farm field and introduce a future failed development that will forever mar the rural town of Walworth. Who’s to say the Chicago developer will even be interested in plowing over this rural farm field once he realizes just how different Walworth County, Wisconsin is from Kane County, Illinois?
Troy Hill Estates
In 2009, Troy Hill Estates was created out of a rolling field on Townline Road, just 1 mile from downtown East Troy, 1.2 miles from East Troy Schools, and 1/4 of a mile from I-43. The development featured 54 larger lots, one acre varieties, because every developer in Wisconsin knows that no one outside of Lincoln Park pines for 70 foot lots. Initially, some lots were sold in the $39k range.
Nearly 7 years after it first bulldozed a productive field of beans or corn, Troy Hill Estates has 6 built homes. Today, there are 48 vacant lots, though you wouldn’t be able to tell that by reading the development sign, because it’s tattered and falling over, mostly illegible. The roads are beautifully paved, providing easy access for the throngs of residential home buyers seeking large lots in the $35k range. At the current absorption rate, the development should be filled to capacity in the next 48 years.
Creating more vacant lots when there is an existing glut of supply is a disservice to the developers who have already begun their developments, and a disservice to every resident of Walworth County. These developers deserve the chance to sell their decades worth of inventory, and what they don’t need is the approval of more vacant parcels that compete directly with their already empty subdivisions. If developments with easy commuter access to robust job markets, short walks to school, and low, low prices can’t attract buyers, which development can? A corn field development adjacent to nothing, but walking distance to no where?
Sugar Creek Preserve
In 2004, the Sugar Creek Preserve was proposed on 260 acres of beautiful land just two miles south of I-43, barely 5 miles from downtown East Troy, 15 minutes from downtown Lake Geneva, and minutes from Alpine Valley. There would be just 52 lots in this conservation development, with ponds and miles of walking trails and more wild flowers than anyone could ever count. The development adhered to strict guidelines for harmonious, natural development and was sure to be a huge success. In 2005, it burst onto the scene with those walking tails and ponds and oak groves on rolling hills and so many flowers. Further, it was pushed far into the trees, so far from the road and from neighboring houses that everyone both in the development and outside of the development maintained their tremendous privacy.
Of those 52 lots, there are 10 built homes (including one under construction currently). There are 42 vacant lots that are empty today. The 10 built homes were completed over the past 10 years, which tells us that we have only 42 years left before the vacant lots are filled with happy homeowners. This development caters to those Walworth County residents who work in the plentiful Milwaukee job markets, and is easy access to Lake Geneva, Alpine Valley, East Troy, and Mukwonago.
It should be noted that this is a beautiful development, with parcels available from $49k according to the sign, though I’ll bet we could buy one for $39k. Lot sizes range from 1-3 acres, most are rather wooded. This truly is one of the highest quality, most affordable, empty subdivisions in Walworth County. The miles of walking trails through tens of acres of natural prairie are really something that must be seen to be believed, though after a decade of attracting only a handful of buyers, the market obviously thinks this conservation development is too good to be true. Oh, and lest you assume that surely a large developer would never commit such an absurd market error, this development was the work of perhaps the largest developer in Walworth County.
The Oaks Of Delavan Lake
Now this was a good development idea. 16 beautifully wooded lots measuring one half acre to 2 acres, just 1 mile from the East Delavan Shopping District, and 1.2 miles from I-43. Across the road, Delavan Lake, down the road, a fabulous golf course. Delavan Lake Sanitary District, high density surrounding it. The development would appeal easily to three market segments: The lakes area vacation home buyer, the full time family who presumably works in town, and the commuter who wishes to live in Walworth County’s woods while driving into the Milwaukee or Illinois job markets. This development was going to be hot, hot hot. Can’t miss.
In 2007, it was proposed. In 2008, it was off the ground. 16 lots, conservation style, so as to fit through the counties super stringent re-zone standards. Today, there are 2 homes built in the Oaks Of Delavan Lake. There are 14 vacant lots in this lovely development, begging for a buyer, or fourteen. At the torrid absorption rate of 1 home every 4 years, the development should be full of happy homeowners in 56 short years.
A board member recently asked me if it was the board’s charge to save developers from themselves. It was intended to be rhetorical, profound perhaps, but the question has an actual, obvious answer. If a board honors their fiduciary responsibility to their constituents, then they needn’t consider the developers’ personal, financial folly. They need only understand that excessive development applies downward pressure on the property values of the entirety of Walworth County, and if they understand that, they’ll turn down development that isn’t in the best interests of their neighbors and constituents. (Since Walworth County is currently operating with at least 50 years of unsold vacant lot inventory (stay tuned, the statistics don’t lie), that would render every development proposed over the next several decades unnecessary.) By turning down these unnecessary and unwanted developments they save the developers from exploring our bankruptcy laws, and they save their neighbors (who elected them) from the value destroyer that lurks in fields of unsold lots.
In 2006, Bluestem Meadows was born on 42 acres in Sugar Creek. The 11 lots are three miles from the Elkhorn shopping district, and just 2.6 miles from the intersection of 12/43/67, making it an easy commute to the robust job markets of Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties. The countryside there is beautiful. Elkhorn is a vibrant community of 10,000 plus full time residents, in addition to a thriving vacation home community in Lauderdale Lakes. This development was going to be snapped up by throngs of waiting buyers.
Bluestem was a conservation development, approved by the town and the county because the sign was pretty and the name, Bluestem Meadows, sounds like a nice field of flowers. In the past 10 years, there has been one home built. 10 vacant lots, one built home. Sagging silt fences line some of the lot boundaries, and for sale signs of varying shapes and legibility dot the landscape. For the township, it won’t be long at all until the bustling community fills those last 10 lots. Just another 100 years or so.
Sharon Green is a very unique Conservation Development in Sharon. Walworth Township, as a point of fact, has far more in common with the density and aesthetics of Sharon than it does with Delavan.
This new development was really quite something. The homes were to be “green”, constructed by a builder who specialized in this desirable, earth sensitive construction. They would capitalize on the macro trends and the hottest housing market anyone had ever seen. In 2005, or thereabouts, the development burst onto the scene. These lots were conservation style, with some open lands surrounding the homesites. They were walking distance to town, with water and sewer provided by the municipality, walking distance to the grade school.
In 2006, a couple of lots sold in the $50k range. Today, there is one lot available on the MLS for $20,400, the other lots are unlisted, though a tattered sign at the pillared entrance tells us they are for sale. There are 32 lots in this subdivision, with 3 built homes. Not all is lost, however, as a farmer has been farming the vacant lots and bails of hay now line the single cul-de-sac road, and those hay bails do lend a nice country vibe to the empty subdivision. With 3 homes built in 10 years, it will only be another 96 years before the development is full. But time flies, so it might not seem nearly that long.
A common refrain amongst developers who are seeking to exploit our agricultural lands for their personal gain is to explain the connection we have to the Chicago labor market. If that is the case, please consider that Sharon Green is 93 miles from downtown Chicago. The North Walworth Road proposed development is 95 miles from downtown Chicago.
Highfield Glen on Stateline Road (Walworth Township) was proposed in the early 2000s and completed in 2003. That’s just about 13 years ago. It’s a beautiful cul-de-sac, fully wooded, for 100% privacy of both the residents and the township neighbors. The lots were in demand, they said, and so the town approved a subdivision of 15 lots. Since 2003 there have been 4 homes built. If you know anyone looking for a vacant lot in Walworth Township, there are 11 of them over in Highfield Glen. Two were foreclosed on. Growth is good, except there’s no growth when there are no buyers.
The township board has decided that they’d like to meet with me, not individually, but collectively. Sounds like someone upset their tidy little apple cart. Currently, concerned citizens are formulating plans to fight any developer attempt to transform Walworth into Pottersville.
And because our common sense angle isn’t one that’s based only on emotion, but rather on cold, hard statistics, here’s an updated letter that I just sent to the elected officials who serve me and my township neighbors.
Here are some development statistics for the Town of Walworth. This will help outline demand and absorption rates, in addition to using market data to define a typical property owned and sold by the residents of Walworth Township, the constituents of the board.
Over the past five years (since 12/14/2010) , Walworth Township and the Village of Walworth have sold a combined total of 11 vacant lots. As of this date, there are more than 108 vacant parcels actively listed for sale, not including by owner parcels and new development parcels not yet presented to the market. We have 50 years of market inventory currently offered for sale, assuming no further inventory is added.
It should be noted that interest rates for 30 year fixed rate mortgages have averaged 4.17% per Freddie Mac over those five years. The prior five years mortgage rates averaged 5.7%, some 37% more than the recent five year average. Forecast for coming five years is unknown, but assuredly more in line with the 2005-2010 rate average than the more attractive 2010-2015 average.
Three distinct market segments for the sold parcels:
Whitetail Ridge sold 3 lots, total. In 5 years.
Two vacant lot closings occurred in Walworth Township for properties hooked up to the Delavan Sanitary District. One sold for $7,500. That lot measured 150 x 100, or approximately 50% bigger than the lots presented to the plan commission, and these are Delavan Township market lots, not Walworth Township market lots. The other lot was actually two lots, combined into one. That lot totaled one acre, and sold for $25k.
Six other vacant parcels sold in the Town of Walworth. These other parcels represent Walworth Township and reflect the density and values of the township. Those six parcels sold for an average price of $353,993. The average parcel was 37.33 acres in size.
There are currently 16 homes for sale in Walworth Township. Those 16 homes have an average lot size of 9.6 acres.
It’s not the fault of a Chicago developer that he doesn’t understand our market, it’s just a lack of understanding that comes from never having started or completed a successful development in Walworth County. RowHomes of Fontana, marketed aggressively since April, full time sales center all summer and fall during a banner year for the Lake Geneva vacation home market, bonuses and models and fancy brochures.
Total Rowhomes sold? Zero.
Stastics per MetroMLS 12/14/15
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.