By Dennis Rodkin

Crain’s Chicago Business

April 13, 2017

 

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering for houses grouped around common green space at Plum Farms.

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering for houses grouped around common green space at Plum Farms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 186-acre tract of northwest suburban farmland could become a series of walkable neighborhoods with city-style three-flats and other housing options that aren’t the suburban norm. It would also include a “tranquility center” with a stream flowing through it.

“It will look like something between the suburbs and the city,” said Anthony Iatarola, who will present the plan, called Plum Farms, to the Hoffman Estates village board April 17 in an effort to get most of the land annexed to that suburb, where about 40 acres already lies.

“This should be a model for the way we want to live now,” Iatarola said. Walking trails would thread through the neighborhoods and around wetlands to the shops, school, platform tennis courts and other amenities that would be constructed over the course of what he estimates as an eight-year buildout.

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering of the development's 'tranquility center.

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering of the development’s ‘tranquility center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iatarola, a partner in the Plum Farms development partnership called 5a7, said his father bought the land in 1959, when he saw suburban development headed northwest. Iatarola, formerly an attorney and head of the Wirtz family’s real estate operation, now runs a small industrial company and said the Plum Farms land is owned by his family members along with a few other people.

His firm’s proposal, which calls for more than 1,000 homes and at least 155,000 square feet of shops and offices surrounding 70 acres of wetlands, would occupy a site at the northwest corner of state routes 72 and 59. The other three corners are developed or underway, and just southwest is Prairie Stone, the corporate park around the Sears headquarters.

That leaves the Plum Farms site as “the hole in the donut, and you’ve got to do something special,” said John McLinden, whose Skokie-based development firm, StreetScape, consulted on the land plan, which includes houses that face common green spaces, a community greenhouse and a shops building with an outdoor ice rink out front. Streetscape developed the new urbanist-style projects School Street in Libertyville and Floral Avenue in Skokie along similar lines, though they were far smaller.

Plum Farms “will be School Street on steroids,” Iatarola said. It includes a commercial first phase of shops, offices and an outdoor ice rink, which his firm would build at the parcel’s southeast corner near the major intersection, and multiple residential phases to be built by other firms.

LARGEST HOFFMAN PROJECT SINCE 1990s

With plans for 1,035 housing units, the residential part of Plum Farms would be the largest project proposed in Hoffman Estates since the late 1990s, said village manager James H. Norris. The 1999 proposal for University Place contained 850 houses and single-family homes as well as commercial and educational facilities on 325 acres, and another 193 residential units were added in a separate annexation in 2005.

In plans that Iatarola showed Crain’s but would not allow to be published, the land has housing around three sides, built in various configurations including three-flats (where, in traditional Chicago settings, the building’s owner lives in one and rents out the other two units), houses grouped around common courtyards and three-story townhouses for rent.

In presentation documents, Iatarola refers to these and others as “the missing middle” types of housing in the Hoffman Estates and Barrington-area market, where houses and mid-rise apartment buildings predominate. Iatarola said an apartment developer is ready to roll with seven buildings containing 253 rental units on the project’s southwest corner “as soon as we have all the approvals from the village,” but he would not identify the firm.

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering of the commercial property to be built at Plum Farms' southeast corner.

Photo by 5a7 LLC A conceptual rendering of the commercial property to be built at Plum Farms’ southeast corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vision of a mix of housing types “is a strategy that can keep you alive out there,” said Tracy Cross, principal of suburban development consulting firm Tracy Cross & Associates. His firm is not connected to the Plum Farms plan.

Sales of high-end homes have been slow in the northwest suburbs for more than a year, and construction of new homes even slower. “With those different types of housing, you’re not sitting waiting to sell one or two houses a month on your 180 acres,” Cross said. “That could take you 500 months, which is infinity.”

Cross said a residential use for the land might be a good plan, considering that the former AT&T campus, also in Hoffman Estates, has 1.6 million square feet of commercial space standing empty. The long, slow death spiral of Sears Holdings also could end with that firm’s behemoth facility next door becoming available.

The types of housing are all only concepts for now, Iatarola said. Because each phase of development will require separate approval from the village, “I presume that what eventually gets built will be dictated by the market and what is selling on that site,” Norris said.

The Iatarola family sold some of its Hoffman Estates land off in the early 2000s, including 42 acres south of Higgins Road, where the 400,000-square-foot Poplar Creek Crossing shopping center was completed in 2006. Of the larger remaining chunk north of Higgins, he said, “I’ve been dreaming of what I could build here since I was a kid.”

For nearly six decades, the family has rented most of the land to farmers and other users, he said. The family long ago sold off his father’s other postwar real estate investment, tracts of land northwest of Tucson.

 

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