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Homeowners making the best of life in unfinished subdivisions
By Bob Susnjara | Daily Herald Staff

Plans were for 43 single-family houses at Tall Grass Ridge in Mundelein. Instead, only four homes have been completed since a construction announcement in 2007.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Greg and Madhana Gulliver say they are making the best of living in the only house in Stony Ridge subdivision in Grayslake. Further development plans are stalled in Stony Ridge and other subdivisions like Tall Grass Ridge in Mundelein, top photo.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Greg and Madhana Gulliver say they view more wildlife than would have been around if all 38 houses were build as planned at Stony Ridge subdivision where they live in Grayslake.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Tall Grass Ridge in Mundelein is nowhere close to the 43 homes that were originally planned in 2007. One resident says she's enjoyed the wildlife roaming on the extra open space.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Tall Grass Ridge in Mundelein is one of the suburbs' incomplete subdivisions.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/3/2009 12:03 AM

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Deer, fox and other animals are known to scamper around a tranquil Grayslake subdivision, a sight Greg and Madhana Gulliver agree is one benefit of living there.

And, if Madhana Gulliver wants to buy groceries or fuel up her car, it's a quick drive from the countrylike setting to Grayslake's commercial areas. It's pretty much the best of all worlds.

"You know what?" said Madhana Gulliver. "There's a lot of wildlife here. And that's kind of cool. If we had a lot of houses (nearby), I don't think we'd see as many of the (animals)."

But as is the case with some suburban subdivisions these days, the animals and unobstructed pond view from the Gullivers' spacious house at Stony Ridge weren't quite what the plans depicted when they moved there in October 2005.

Of the 38 homes ranging from $500,000 to $1 million that were planned for the subdivision, the Gullivers have the only one that's been built on the 44-acre site near Rollins Road and Sheldon Drive. They had looked forward to new neighbors - their closest neighbors are now in the adjacent subdivision - and home price appreciation by being the first residents, but they are not dwelling on the negative.

"It's worked out really good," Madhana Gulliver said. "We really have nothing to complain about."

The Gullivers are not the only ones who are optimistic about their less-than-ideal housing situation. A leading real-estate expert said incomplete suburban residential developments - such as Stony Ridge, Sugar Grove's Settlers Ridge, Tall Grass Ridge in Mundelein and others - are not as bleak as one might think.

"There's opportunities at these projects," said Lance Ramella, a partner at RW Real Estate Advisors in Oakbrook Terrace. "Developers are looking at them."

Ramella said most residents who stick it out in struggling home developments will be rewarded at some point.

Merry Carey is another homeowner making the best of a development that soured. Carey bought a Settlers Ridge duplex about two years ago based on the expectation of a mix of attractive homes, natural beauty and open space.

Only about 110 of the originally proposed 960 homes for Settlers Ridge have been built. Now-bankrupt Kimball Hill Homes won approval for the development in July 2007.

Carey, 59, a retired teacher, said she could continue to complain about lots that remain empty and uncompleted work in the project.

Instead, Carey said, there have been pleasant surprises such as goldfinches frequently feeding at an empty lot across from her duplex and the blue heron she watched grow up over the summer that never would have been around if all the homes were built.

There also has been bonding among neighbors as a result of Settlers Ridge's problems.

Carey said she has friends who moved into a subdivision that stalled from a developer's bankruptcy in the 1970s, but the project was completed five years later. Her friends told her the best thing is to be patient at Settlers Ridge.

"I think there are some things out here worth enjoying if we wait it out," she said.

At Mundelein's Tall Grass Ridge, only four of a planned 43 single-family homes have been built since the plans were announced in 2007. Margaret Witt and her husband, Richard, are among the few who live on Tall Grass Lane.

Other than the partially finished, unoccupied house next door, Witt said her gripes with the area are minimal. She said the lack of homes and immediate neighbors mean a variety of wildlife continues to meander on open land.

Witt said she's particularly enjoyed viewing a 10-point buck that comes near her house at 5:30 p.m. daily.

"Our dog no longer has to go to the dog park because we have so much open space," Witt added.

Ramella, who provides real estate advice to a variety of interests from homebuilders to municipalities, said developers already are sniffing around some subdivisions geared for affordable homes. He said Settlers Ridge is one place drawing interest because there are plenty of empty lots as opposed to half-built homes.

Experts say a fear of the unknown remains a deterrent to the sales of homes in the unfinished subdivisions.

"Buyers have been looking for deep discounts from motivated homebuilders," said National Association of Realtors spokesman Walter Molony. "Although there appears to be little to cut at this point since homes in many areas are selling for less than construction costs, and there is a general preference in a market with plentiful supply to purchase in an area where development is essentially complete."

It helps to have infrastructure such as the paved streets and lights at Stony Ridge, which were completed by the village of Grayslake in 2007. Greg Gulliver said when he bought his house, it helped to know village government had the ability to use $400,000 posted as a bond by Kathcon Development Corp. for the infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Ramella said, future homeowners should not let the incomplete subdivisions scare them from seeking reduced preconstruction prices typically offered to those willing to be among the first in a development. He said it's rare for only one house to be built in a subdivision, as is the case at Stony Ridge.

Greg Gulliver, 44, said he'd be willing to lead the pack again, despite his experience of not getting the neighborhood he had envisioned for his wife, 40, and 4-year-old son.

"Being one of the first people in a development, you get the choice of lots," he said. "And as it gets built up, prices usually do go up. So, those all figured in our thinking, 'OK, let's be the first.' There weren't a lot of open lots in Grayslake."