Development: Ordinances boost value of homes, land
By Catherine Ann Velasco
Surburban Chicago Newspapers
GREEN GARDEN TOWNSHIP - Instead of filling in wetlands
or bulldozing over open space, developer Jim Paul thrives
on incorporating Mother Nature into his subdivisions.
Out of 151 acres in his Canterbury Lakes development,
there are 55 acres devoted to open space areas, including
habitats with trails, a park, well-stocked lakes and sitting
areas to enjoy nature.
He often sees deer and pheasant at his Canterbury Lakes
development at the southwest corner of Manhattan-Monee
Road and Harlem Avenue in Green Garden Township.
"In a lot of cases, we left the open spaces as
is and in certain other areas we've incorporated restoration
and put additional trees in the developments," Paul
However, Paul seems to be unique among the majority
of developers statewide.
Since protections for wetlands were stripped away in
2001 by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers has been dealing with more petitions than
ever from people who want to develop on wetlands, said
Paul Leffler, regulatory specialist for the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers.
The court ruled that isolated wetlands - those not connected
to an adjacent river or lake - are no longer protected
under the federal Clean Water Act.
That means there are about 150,118 acres of isolated
wetlands in Illinois that were left vulnerable to development,
said Jack Darin, director of the Sierra Club Illinois
"Sprawl is chipping away at what stream and wetland
habitat remain and it's truly a shame," Darin said.
"When you take away nature's ability to absorb
rainwater, that water will end up in your basement,"
Darin said. "Wetlands are nature's sponges because
they soak up flood water. They are nature's kidneys because
they filter out pollution and they are homes for countless
species of wildlife."
A wetland is an area that is saturated with ground water
or surface water for a long enough time to support hydric
soil, wetland vegetation and wildlife, Leffler said. While
a flood plain is outside the boundary of a wetland and
usually has higher elevation. Flood plains won't support
all the criteria needed in a wetland.
Concerned about the ruling, the Sierra Club Illinois
Chapter requested data through the Freedom of Information
Act to find out what was happening to the unprotected
wetlands in Illinois.
The Sierra Club found 261 cases in Northeastern Illinois,
including 42 wetlands in Will County where the Army Corps
had to allow wetlands to be destroyed by developers, landowners
and others, Darin said.
In Crest Hill, Sierra Club volunteers found that an
owner was given permission to destroy .228 acres, containing
endangered species, such as Hine's Emerald dragonfly and
"Because the Army Corps lost jurisdiction of isolated
wetlands, it would be fair to say there was a large loss
of wetlands all over the country," Leffler said.
"We are trying to balance a lot of needs. We try
to balance development with environmental quality in the
area," Leffler said. "We want people to use
their land for economical purposes. We also try to limit
their impact to wetland areas. We try to view their projects
and lessen impact."
Currently, the Sierra Club is supporting Illinois Senate
Bill 422 that will restore protections to wetlands that
the federal government is no longer protecting, Darin
said. The bill, which will be up for a vote this fall,
would require a permit from the Illinois Department of
Natural Resources before anyone could destroy a wetland
in Illinois, Darin said.
If the applicant can show there were no reasonable alternatives
to destroying the wetland, and that it would not result
in the loss of flood control, wildlife habitat, or water
purification functions, the permit would be greated, Darin
"The relators and home builders are lobbying furiously
against it. I know it will be hotly contested in the Senate,"
Darin said. "This bill is very important to protect
homeowners from flooding, to protect our drinking water
from pollution and to protect our remaining wildlife."
Before the suburban sprawl really hit Will County, the
Forest Preserve District of Will County identified more
than 9,000 acres that were suitable for preservation.
Many of the acres were along waterways from rivers, creeks
to streams, said Bruce Hodgdon, spokesman for the district.
In 1999 voters approved a $70 million bond referendum
that allows the forest preserve to spend $51 million to
buy open space, including wetlands.
"Wetlands are nature's purifiers. They can take
water that has certain kinds of pollutions and oxygenate
it and purify it. Wetlands are crucial for the ecological
health of Will County as the county continues to become
more and more developed," Hodgdon said.
Acres Acres away
The forest preserve district has bought 3,500 acres to
date, and plans to buy about 500 to 700 more acres with
the funds, Hodgdon said. The district has been able to
restore wetland prairies, such as Theodore Marsh in Joliet,
which was destroyed when a construction company used it
as a dumping ground for its materials.
The referendum allowed the forest preserve to get an
early head start in the race for open space before developers
quickly build up in Will County, which is expected to
become the second most populous county in the state by
2030. The county is expected to double its population
to 1.2 million people, according to research conducted
by the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission.
Meanwhile, Will County has put guidelines in place to
encourage developers to incorporate wetlands and open
space into their developments, said Sheldon Latz, Will
County engineer and chief subdivision engineer.
Similar to Paul's development in Green Garden Township,
the county's ordinance known as the conservation design
method encourages developers to cluster houses closer
together in order to have more open space, Latz said.
Paul said he has seen more developers nationwide using
this approach, which not only helps nature but can help
Paul, owner of Alps Development Inc. in Green Garden
Township, said the open space concept has added 11 percent
to 15 percent to the value of the homes in Canterbury
Lakes. The homes currently sell for $350,000 and up.
"The resale is higher because it is creative,"
he said. "Instead of going to a park, you have a
park in your back yard."