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 proposed 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.
Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.