Blog : Development

Walworth County Development Update

Walworth County Development Update

A few weeks ago I received an email from the Wisconsin Realtors Association.  The email asked that I, as a member, contact my representative in the state legislature and ask him or her to vote in favor of an upcoming bill. The bill was like all bills. Some good, some bad, lots of extras. But the primary crux of this bill is that it would make it easier for developers to develop land.  The bill was aimed at “increasing the amount of housing inventory by reforming the residential real estate development process.”  Since Realtors sell real estate, it was only fitting that the WRA pushed the passage of this bill.  Realtors, never claiming to be a group that likes to question the management, likely went along with the initial request and contacted their local legislatures and urged them to vote yes.

When I read that initial email, I replied and told the sender that I would be asking my representatives to vote down this bill.  The reply I then received asked me why. I asked a better question: How many vacant lots exist in the state of Wisconsin? How many future developments are already approved, with tidy re-zone requests granted, but have yet to begin construction?  My questions were met with silence. And this is the problem with development in the state of Wisconsin.

The market today is healthy. There is a veritable construction boom around Lake Geneva, Walworth County, and elsewhere in this fine state of ours. FoxConn is brining jobs, Amazon is adding more, and Uline can’t seem to hire fast enough.  The market is expanding, and with it, an increased demand for housing. Add in a hot re-sale market, which is usually the most under appreciated asset of any market rebound, and you’ve got some serious liquidity.  Call a contractor in Lake Geneva today and ask him to come out and build you a deck. Wait a few months for him to show up. That’ll give you a taste of how active the construction trades are at this moment. All in all, it’s a fantastic thing.

Those in power at the state and municipal level see this growth and feel as though they must react to it. Let’s Make More Housing!, they cry.   And they set to writing legislation to make it easier to develop land. After all, with all of these pesky zoning laws in place how can Joe Developer strip out a farm field to build 200 vinyl ranches?  The legislators drive around their small home towns and see construction. They see cranes in the sky over Milwaukee. They see businesses moving from the North Suburbs of Chicago to those South Suburbs of Milwaukee. They see the demand and they want to feed it.  They think they’re doing the right thing.

But they aren’t. Because what they’re all failing to realize is that this current building boom comes on the heels of a building bust. The vacant inventory that was created during the last boom (2000-2008) is still there. The platted but unbuilt developments might look like farm fields to the naked eye, but to the GIS Map they show their true identity. These are sleeping giants. Huge sections of  residential development is ready to go, but yet it sits idle.  Realtors and Legislators think the solution is to add more development on top of this old product. I say finish your plate before you ask for seconds.

Today there are 676 vacant lots listed for sale in Walworth County.  There are likely at least two thousand more lots approved to be built on but remain in undeveloped subdivisions.  That estimate is likely low. Last year there were 216 vacant lots sold in the county (per MLS).  Long after the term Zombie Foreclosures left our lexicon, consider these the Zombie Developments of 2018. If we consider briefly that we have 2500 or so lots approved and ready for roads/shovels/permits, and we sold 216 lots during the strongest housing market in a decade, then we have roughly 12 years worth of inventory ready for construction. Is that not enough? To the developers and their minions on county and township boards, are you not entertained?

Yes, the housing market today is vibrant. Yes, the near future looks just as bright. But markets never expand forever. What happens when the current round of zoning changes are finalized and we add another thousand or more lots to the Walworth County plat map, and that additional inventory coincides with an inevitable future market downturn? What happens to Joe Homeowner in his $199k cornfield ranch then?  I remain firm in my opposition to large scale redevelopment of vacant land not because I hate development, but because of whose side I’m on. In the battle between the existing homeowner who would love to add a few percent of appreciation to his house every year and the developer who wishes to flood a market with product for people that may or may not some day move there, I choose to root for the current homeowner every. single. time.

Lake Geneva News

Lake Geneva News

I try my best to avoid involving myself with the municipal governments in this area. I care deeply about what happens here, about the future, about the way the whole thing seems to be turning out. That’s why I fight development, because it’s unnecessary and it’s evil and I wish Chicago developers would worry more about Chicago developments than rural ones. I shy away from fighting with the municipalities over things I feel are wrong, because the fight here is skewed and largely unfair. That’s because the tax base is large, owing that entirely to the vacation home set and their weekend homes, and yet the voting and decisions are carried out solely by those who live here full time.  The residents vote to spend the tax money of their neighbors who don’t have a say in the matter. That irritates me, and so I generally let sleeping, bloated, tax ladened dogs lie.

But sometimes it’s all too much, and I need to say a few words about the local happenings. And so here it goes. First up, more rumors and innuendo and hushed threats over the Geneva Inn. This is the old hotel on the southeast corner of the lake that used to be known as the Shore Club. This restaurant/hotel is in Linn Township, but the city of Lake Geneva covets it, and the development groups who eye it routinely wish to annex it to the city of Lake Geneva so that they can obtain city water and sewer. There’s much to discuss here, but there’s only one thing that matters. Development in this corner of the lake would be bad for the area. We do not need more development here, no matter what shape it takes, and we certainly don’t need some circus on that end of the lake. If you care about the lake and you like things the way they are, email the City of Lake Geneva and tell them to deny any annexation requests or development requests for the Geneva Inn.

Speaking of the city, there’s a new restaurant being built next to Popeye’s. Oak Fire Pizza, it might be two words not three, bought their building a few years ago. They renovated the building. They opened and they served me pizza that was decent, but soggy in the middle. Then they tore the building down and now they’re erecting a new building, to serve pizza. It’s a big gamble, a huge expense, but this is a good thing for the area. I don’t like development, this is obvious, but re-development of existing things should be encouraged, always. Lake Geneva is at a bit of an intersection these days. On one hand, rents are too high and certain marquee locations are sitting empty, an obvious sign of landlord/tennant disputes over reasonable rental rates. On the other hand, renovation and expansion is occurring, which cannot be anything but good so long as that expansion is simply replacing the tattered with the shiny, and not inventing new locations to cram the shiny.

Williams Bay likes money. They like it a lot. That’s why they several years ago approved an auto repair shop to be built on their main drag, just a few hundred feet from the lake. Any reasonable town with a reasonable eye towards the future would have denied this request, but Williams Bay is eager to play with the big boys like Fontana and Williams Bay and so they approve things that shouldn’t be approved. Like when the Williams Bay School Board pulled a fast one on the town and was allowed to collect tax dollars to fund the demolition of the old school building but then decided, instead, to sell the school building and pocket the dedicated funds. Williams Bay now wants to build a fire house. A new, shiny fire house. The fire house will cost a couple million because why not? We need a new fire house because the old one is too small for $500k fire trucks, and there aren’t even sleeping rooms in the old fire house. I can’t figure out why a volunteer fire department who battles fires on such an infrequent basis would need to sleep at their fire house. Baby, don’t treat me bad, indeed. Tell the Village of Williams Bay to knock it off, fire houses are for cities, silly.  On the heels of building a $20MM grade school, it takes a significant amount of gall to expect tax payers to fund a new firehouse of such royal proportions.

Speaking of easy tax dollars, a massive TIF grant was awarded to the new owner of the Geneva Theatre. Geneva 4, it’s called. I watched Hot Shots there from the front row, my neck crooked skyward, because it was 1991 and we rode our bikes there and we were late. The theatre has been in disrepair for ages, and so a new buyer surfaced last year and the city handed out bushels of tax dollars to aid in the renovations. The theatre now looks interesting,  art deco ish, but interesting. It was supposed to open on March 1st, but it didn’t. It’s supposed to open today, but who knows if it will. I asked the theatre manager for a tour of the property this week but was ignored, so perhaps they don’t want me to write nice things about their efforts.  I can’t tell you if they’re opening or not, but judging by the number of construction trucks outside the theatre yesterday it appears as though they’re giving max effort. The theatre will be open by summer, that we can be sure of, and it would be nice of you to visit it. I’m happy something was done here, and I’m happy the theatre remains a theatre and not a handful of t-shirt shops.

The biggest threat to the Lake Geneva market is not from outside forces. It’s not from greedy developers. The biggest threat is from within. It’s from the boards that run these small towns, the board members who so badly wish to matter. They want to make a splash, for the children they say, for the future. For this and for that, but the efforts are almost always guided by cliche and misunderstood standards that are rarely, if ever, challenged. Development does not make a community better.  Fire houses with sleeping quarters are not necessary. Hotels should be hotels, not water parks with carnivals surrounding them. The county and municipalities need to protect this lake, to protect the interests of those who make their living here at the same time as they protect those who fund all of this with their generous tax dollars. The best path forward is always one of caution, and when markets get hot caution is the narrowest of paths.

Walworth County

Walworth County

There’s a problem in Walworth County. It isn’t that our fields are lush and our lakes wet.  It’s not that our towns are busy and our streets are clean and our schools are new. Walworth County, in spite of all the good, has a serious problem.   Walworth County should, at its very heart, know what it is. It should know what it means. It should know why it is successful and why it is desirable. Walworth County should know it is a rural county intermixed with lakes that bring significant resort business to our towns on the weekends. Walworth County should know exactly what it is, but the problem these days is that Walworth County is suffering through a full blown identity crisis.

The South Eastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is an organization that claims to act on the best interests of the seven Wisconsin counties that fall under its jurisdiction. This is the group that put together the 2035 Plan, which reads like a developer handbook. Develop these fields, make small lots so people can pass sugar between their windows without needing to toil through the effort of outstretching their arms fully, but give those suckers (residents) the ability to walk to a community park.  Put that park near a high speed transit line, and you’ll have completed the liberal dream for these United States. Cram residents into tight corridors, reducing theoretical congestion on roadways, make it easy for the government to shuttle them to and from work, and then let them all mingle together after work at a community provided playground. This is what SEWRPC wants, and this is what it wants for Walworth County.

The problem with SEWRPC is that it applies agendas for Kenosha County and Waukesha County with the same heavy hand that it applies those concepts in Walworth County. There’s a significant difference between these counties, as one is an affluent collar county to Milwaukee (Waukesha) and one is an industrialized county (Kenosha) with immediate and easy interstate access to Milwaukee and Chicago.  Walworth County, on the other hand, doesn’t have a primary interstate bisecting it, nor does it have a high full-time population of affluent professionals. Walworth County, much to the chagrin of SEWRPC, is an affluent county due mostly to its high influx of vacation home owners and vacationing tourists, which is something that the other counties under their domain can not claim. Walworth County isn’t at all like these other counties, and yet we align with SEWRPC and we ask them to give us our development and land use goals, and then we let developers run rampant over our farm fields based on some blessing from an organization that has such amazing land-planning skills that they consider Kenosha and Walworth counties to be the same.

As I’ve written about before, SEWRPC dictates growth to our rural county, and they do so largely on population projections. The theory states that if a county is growing, it needs new, cheap housing so that the people who wish to move to the county can afford to live there. Nice concept, even if it’s ridiculous because it assumes people only move to a county if they can find a $219k vinyl ranch on a quarter-acre lot near the highway (plus playground!). Because of these population projections, SEWRPC tells Walworth County which fields are primed for development, because develop we must if we wish to thrive. How on earth will we get a multi-billion dollar high-speed rail subsidized by the Federal Government if not for mass development?  And so SEWRPC tells us of their growth plans and Walworth County, desperately wishing to please their multi-county overlords, obliges.

Earlier this week there was an article in a local paper written by Walworth County Administrator David Bretl. The article discussed population growth in Walworth County, and much to the dismay of Bretl he delivered the “bad” news. Walworth County has only grown by 365 new residents since the year 2010. Worse yet, 305 of those residents were added to Whitewater, which is about as non-Walworth County as a municipality can get. So excepting Whitewater, the entirety of Walworth County has added 60 new residents in six years.  This summer the suits at SEWRPC held open meetings wherein they pushed their newest agenda for Walworth County- the 2050 Plan. I argued against their agenda based on market factors, population growth, and demographics, but I was quickly rebuffed. Now the Administrator of our county has told us that our population growth is anemic, which might be giving it too much credit. Meanwhile, SEWPRC swung and missed wildly on their projected growth estimates for Walworth County, and yet we continue to be led by them like so many sheep.

Here’s an idea. Walworth County, remove yourself from the SEWRPC fold. Why would we agree to be under the authority of an organization that doesn’t understand us, particularly one who has proven, heretofore, to be completely and amazingly inaccurate in their predictions?  Why would we let some outside organization tell us that our county, with its mix of agriculture and tourism, isn’t up to their standard? Why on earth do we listen to these suits from Milwaukee who push their agendas for high-speed transit, when Walworth County doesn’t even have regular old fashioned transit? Why are we letting SEWRPC give us a crisis of identity? We are acting like we don’t know who we are, but we know full well who we are. We’re a rural county with recreational lakes, and that mix is what makes our county so much more attractive than the neighboring counties. Let’s remind ourselves of that, and let’s stop having SEWRPC tell us what they’d like us to be and start embracing what we already are.

Last night, another development denial  in Walworth County. The Town of Walworth board yet again told a Kane County developer that he’s not going to build a couple hundred homes on the farm fields of North Walworth Road. Another win for the people, another win for the corn and the beans, and another defeat for a Kane County developer. Why does this development keep coming back? In large part because SEWRPC shaded an area of this land in yellow ink and said it might be a good spot for future development. Who will the homes be occupied by? SEWRPC isn’t exactly sure, but growth!


The Keg Room Proposal: Another Miss

The Keg Room Proposal: Another Miss

I have not lived in Williams Bay since 1998. Williams Bay, however, is my home town and it is the town that I will name whenever someone asks me where I’m from, no matter where I am when they ask, or where I live at the time. I am from Williams Bay.  Because of this, I’m concerned about Williams Bay, and I wish nothing but the best for it. That’s why I’m once again having to explain what happens when out of town developers invade small communities.

Kane County Shodeen has once again set his sights on development in Walworth County, this time in Williams Bay. It wasn’t enough that he once proposed 4000+ units in Delavan Township, and now has 623 nearly approved near that original proposal site, with 180 more approved in Walworth, and 123 proposed (soon to be denied) near my house in the country. His appetite for development is seemingly insatiable, and now Williams Bay is in the cross hairs.  His development proposal, according to a Lake Geneva Regional News article, is for the Keg Room property on the corner of Geneva Street and Walworth Avenue. For those unaware of that location, it is, quite simply put, the most visible corner in the village.

The plan seeks to cram 31 units (28 small condominiums and up to 3 commercial spaces) on a corner that was previously approved to host just 16 units. The small one and two bedroom condominiums will range in size from 900-1100 square feet. The corner is busy now, with traffic pouring down Walworth to Pier 290, and Geneva Street buzzing past on the North. Everyone who knows this vacant corner knows that it needs to be developed. What I know, as a Williams Bay business owner and a Williams Bay native is that this is the wrong development for our marquee corner.

On a corner in Fontana, The Tracy Group is building a six unit townhouse development (pictured above), and they are absolutely beautiful.  The land that Tracy is building six units on is roughly one half acre. The land that Shodeen wishes to put 31 units on is roughly one half acre. Am I the only one who sees the problem here?  Tracy is putting 6 high end units in Fontana. Shodeen wants to put 31 units in Williams Bay (pictured below, courtesy the Lake Geneva Regional News). Why should Williams Bay deserve anything less than Fontana? Why would Williams Bay seek to approve a development that would render their prime corner a Kane County Special?

Kane County Keg Room Proposal, courtesy the Lake Geneva Regional News

Williams Bay has, for quite some time, wished for a revitalization of their downtown. I helped the cause, building a beautiful cottage style building for my real estate office. I built a small, shingle style property that blends with the surroundings and respects the historical aesthetic of Williams Bay. But I did this because I’m from here, and I care what my hometown looks like.  I want your view, as you drive through my town, to be pleasant. A Chicago developer comes here and sees only dollar signs, and if a 45′ tall building with underground parking and an apartment appearance is perceived to be the best way to make money, then that’s what will be proposed.

It’s back to the question of density and of style and of our intentions with this lovely county we call home. What are we trying to achieve here? Are we trying to grow and grow and by doing so lose our native appeal?  I’m not anti-development on the Keg Room property, I’m anti-this development on the Keg Room property.  I love the village of Williams Bay and always will, and it’s for that reason that I’m forced to fight for its future.  Some will say that the future is development, and it’s best to let it happen. Those are the people who see development in all shapes and density as a positive, and those are not the discerning people who each community needs in order to protect its identity. The lazy response to development is to sigh and approve it, to say it’s inevitable. The responsible approach is to question every aspect of it and if it doesn’t fit with the community, it should be quickly, and effortlessly denied.

I recognize I’m sounding a bit too Erin Brokovichy lately, but unfortunately I have to be this way. I care too much about this lake, this village, and this county, to idly sit by and watch a developer from Chicago change the nature of this place. I sell real estate here because I love it here. I live here because I love it here. I am raising my children here because I hope that they, one day, will recognize what a special place it is. For those reasons I must fight, and I need your help.  I want to keep Walworth rural, and I want to keep Williams Bay’s most important corner free from density.

If the developer wishes to withdraw this plan, I shall wash my eyes with bleach and consider the next plan. If the next plan looks like the Tracy development in Fontana, with 6-10 units in total, I’ll be the biggest proponent of the new plan. Until then, it’s a fight, and I’m far more motivated to defend my community than anyone might have previously guessed.  Please reach out to the Village of Williams Bay officials and tell them we don’t want this development front and center in our quiet beach town.


Geneva Won’t Ice Up

Geneva Won’t Ice Up

I must  apologize for being so preoccupied over recent days. It was one week ago today when I glanced at the Lake Geneva Regional News and first learned that the Walworth Town Planning Commission had voted 5-0 to approve a conceptual development plan that would turn the rural town of Walworth into a congested extension Shodeen Development Group’s hometown in Kane County. The vote was taken without a single peep of community involvement, without a single shred of evidence that shows how egregious the initial mistake was, and without a single concern for upholding the zoning laws of this county. I’ve been fighting it ever since, and the portion of my brain that thinks of things to write about has been as clogged as those proposed streets.  Please continue to share the Ruining of Walworth post with your friends and family and anyone who is concerned about the future of Walworth County. For now, this:

Geneva Lake isn’t going to freeze this year. Even though it is still meteorological fall and not at all yet real winter, it’s late enough in December that the ruling is in. No ice this winter. Geneva Bay might freeze during some cold snap that will assuredly come in January or February, and Williams Bay may ice up to Gage Marine, but the vast majority of this lake will not see ice over this winter. You can carve that in stone, though it would be easier to carve it in ice, but as I mentioned, there won’t be any of that lying around.

Geneva has gone iceless a few other times. The 2001-2002 winter never brought us ice.  1997-1998 was an El Nino winter, and we didn’t freeze then, either.  1997 wasn’t that long ago, but I can’t remember a bit of it. I sold real estate that winter, and in the years before this blog and before any pattern of sales, I’d sit in my office and wonder what it was I should do. I wore a shirt and tie then, I tried so hard. There was a boutique next to my office then, and I figured that the men would want something to do while their wives and girlfriends shopped for trinkets. So I spray painted a big piece of plywood with:  “BEARS GAME ON INSIDE”. No one ever came in to watch, and it’s a good thing they didn’t, because my television was an old tube TV and the reception was scratchy. How embarrassing that entire winter was, both for me, and for ice.

The 2001-2002 winter is one that I can’t remember, either. I was recently married then, and 9-11 had just occurred and left us preoccupied with thoughts of war and revenge, with scenes of burning buildings and horror. I don’t remember doing anything special that winter, though I do know I went on my honeymoon to Hawaii in September and then in December I surprised my new wife with a vacation to Florida. I know now that I completely ruined any positive response from any spontaneous vacation from then until now, and from now until I die. You can’t take your new wife on vacation in September and then take her again in December, because by February she’s disappointed in you because you didn’t take her to Fiji. This was my error that winter, and the lake never froze.

This winter, it’s not going to freeze either.  The good that comes from this is tangible. There will be far more fish in the lake next summer. The ice fishermen, if not able to drill holes and sit on upside down buckets, won’t be cleaning out hundreds of thousands of panfish as they would in a normal, frozen winter. They won’t be jigging for lake trout and harvesting 100 or more over a winter season. There will be far more fish next year, because the fish will rest this winter, unmolested and free of the baited hook.  As there will be no action on the lake this winter, less trash will end up in the lake. Nothing will get lost in the snow and melt into the lake in early April. The lake will be free of trash and free of fishermen and next summer we’ll be swimming far earlier than normal.

The bad that comes from this is also tangible. Though Geneva doesn’t struggle with weed issues like Delavan and every other lake in the area, it does have seaweed, because it’s a lake. Without ice and snow cover, light reaches those weed beds all winter, and the growth of those weeds never entirely ceases. A thick cover of ice and snow blocks the light, and in a heavy cover winter the seaweed will die, and it will die hard. This year, it won’t, so next summer we’ll be swimming earlier, surrounded by more fish, but also with a few more weeds to contend with.

I’ll look back at this winter in another decade, and I’ll hopefully remember that the ice never came. With any luck, I’ll also remember this winter as the start of when Walworth County took back control of its land, and preserved its farming heritage while beating back the developer’s plow. I hope and pray I can remember this winter fondly.

The Ruining Of Walworth

The Ruining Of Walworth

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.