What can happen when residents move to be near a golf course and then the golf course shuts down and becomes overgrown

The icing on the cake may be the “spite fence” but the broader story is an interesting one to consider: residents want to be near a golf course but then the golf course is no more and becomes a problem.

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The Villages at West Neck was also Foster’s baby. He developed the community of 934 homes for ages 55 and older to complement the golf course. Its serene streets are lined with neatly manicured lawns and ranch houses…

About six months after the golf course closed, in the spring of 2020, W.C. Capital bought it in foreclosure. The company was organized in New Mexico, but it’s unknown who owns it. The sole member is a citizen of Florida, according to Attorney John McIntyre of Norfolk, the company’s registered agent. McIntyre declined to identify the owner.In the beginning, W.C. Capital sporadically mowed the golf course grounds, but it wasn’t as frequent as when the golf course was operating, Luckman said…

Residents rallied to try to save the golf course and formed an advisory committee. They reached out to a local, prominent developer to see if he would consider buying it. They tossed around the idea of the homeowners association stepping up, Luckman said. It would require millions of dollars just to restore it, let alone buy it.

Over the summer, the City of Virginia Beach sued W.C. Capital for not maintaining the golf course property. A bench trial is scheduled for April 2022, according to Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton.

In July, W.C. Capital met with Virginia Beach’s planning staff to propose developing senior living apartments on the golf course land. It would require a change in zoning; the land is zoned for preservation. At the urging of the staff, the company has held meetings with residents to garner feedback.

This is a classic issue that residents might face: they move to a neighborhood or community and then that same place changes. Here, a golf course is a sizable feature as it offers green space, relatively undeveloped land, higher property values, and opportunities to play golf for those interested. Filling the space left by a golf course is not necessarily easy for communities.

To some degree, all places change over time. People move in and out, outside conditions change, leaders make decisions. Few places can remain frozen in time.

And regardless of the change, it can be a difficult process for the property in transition and neighbors. The place is changing, developing a new character. Some people will leave in response, some will stay, others will fight the changes.

If indeed the property ends up becoming senior living apartments, in a decade or two the golf course may be a distant memory. The neighbors will move on. The new residents may only hear word of the former land use. The community will go on. But, the memories and experiences of that golf course may still linger among residents and the community even if its physical forms are long gone.

Arlington Heights and many other suburbs: looking for downtown redevelopment and independence from the big city

With the possibility of a Chicago Bears stadium in the suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois, the Chicago Tribune profile of the community highlights changes in the suburb:

More than 150 years ago, the 19th-century farming community’s prosperity was inextricably tied to its proximity to the railroad line, which served as a trading hub bolstering the town’s agrarian economy. By the 1920s, the community would become home to professionals boarding commuter trains headed to and from the city.

Despite many of those residents working at home these days as a result of the pandemic, the Union Pacific Northwest line dissecting the village of 77,000 residents is still viewed as an economic engine. But Arlington Heights is no longer beholden to the fortunes of Chicago, making the prospect of a Bears stadium in town interesting, yet not essential…

Embracing change has been a recipe for success for the revitalization of downtown Arlington Heights, which like central business districts across the U.S., was languishing in the 1970s and ’80s after mom and pop businesses were devastated by shopping malls and big-box stores, said Charles Witherington-Perkins, the village’s director of planning and community development…

To build the Arlington Heights of today, crafting a new downtown master plan was only the first step. In order to execute the vision, officials needed to loosen building height and density restrictions — stringent regulations that were making it impossible to create an economically and aesthetically vibrant downtown, Witherington-Perkins said…

The contingent of new residents arriving in Arlington Heights — many of whom were commuters attracted to the complex’s proximity to the Metra station — ushered in a surge of downtown residential and retail development that has served as a model for neighboring communities along the Metra line.

Take out the name of Arlington Heights and a few other regional details, and this story might be told for dozens of suburbs in the Chicago region as well as dozens more outside of older American big cities. Here are a few of the common features:

  1. A founding before mass suburbanization. Communities were small, farming was a primary industry, and the railroad was very important for the initial mass of people at that spot.
  2. Mass suburbanization of the twentieth century brought many residents and changes.
  3. Revitalizing suburban downtowns became a priority in the last four decades as competition from shopping malls and strip malls moved business activity away.
  4. This revitalization included adding residential units in denser structures.
  5. As noted elsewhere in this article, these choices about downtown redevelopment often involved choosing more expensive housing units rather than affordable housing. Even when cases went to court (as one did in Arlington Heights), relatively few affordable housing units were created in these denser suburban areas. This leaves Arlington Heights as wealthy and whiter.
  6. This theoretically means the community is more independent from Chicago with its own ecosystem of residential and commercial life downtown and in the suburb.

Does all of this add up to a new state-of-the-art stadium with a multi-billion dollar price tag being constructed in the suburb? That may be a separate issue given how few stadiums are in even large metropolitan areas and the sizable available property at play here.

Is Arlington Heights now truly independent of Chicago and self-sufficient? I would prefer to consider metropolitan regions as a whole as the fate of particular suburbs are connected both to the health of the big city and the suburbs. While a Bears stadium in Arlington Heights will be discussed as a win for the suburb (mostly – as the article notes, some residents oppose it) and a loss for the city of Chicago, the team and the benefits that come with it are still in the region.

Yet, it is worth noting that how the changing suburb understands itself is important. No longer a small farming community, Arlington Heights likely views itself as ambitious and making choices today to help secure its future success. A denser downtown provides a different experience than a bedroom suburb strictly made up of single-family homes. A Bears stadium would put them on the map in a way that few other nearby suburbs could equal. What Arlington Heights is and will be depends on choices made and responses from all of the actors involved.

A denser suburbia in California and the rest of the United States

The single-family home is the most important feature of American suburbs. What happens when conditions change and pressures lead to more multifamily housing units and denser housing in suburbia? From California:

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In June, as Ms. Coats told me about the house and the neighborhood from the doorstep of her bungalow, she gazed toward a fresh foundation that had entombed the back half of Lot 118 in concrete. Over the next few weeks, a construction crew erected a two-story building that filled in a green rectangle from the Clairemont Villas brochure. A few feet away, the original four-bedroom house was loudly gut-renovated into a pair of apartments.

When the workers head to their next job this month, they will leave what amounts to a triplex rental complex on the type of lot that in the seven decades since Ms. Coats’s family moved in had been reserved for single-family houses. It’s part of a push across California and the nation to encourage density in suburban neighborhoods by allowing people to subdivide single-family houses and build new units in their backyards…

In the vast zone between those poles lie existing single-family neighborhoods like Clairemont, which account for most of the urban landscape yet remain conspicuously untouched. The omission is the product of a political bargain that says sprawl can sprawl and downtowns can rise but single-family neighborhoods are sealed off from growth by the cudgel of zoning rules that dictate what can be built where. The deal is almost never stated so plainly, but it is the foundation of local politics in virtually every U.S. city and cuts to the core of the country’s deepest class and racial conflicts…

“It doesn’t fit.” “It’s adding people.” “We don’t want that here.” “There’s other places for that.” “We just want to keep our neighborhood like it is.” “They want to push us out and tear our houses down.” “Parking.” “Parking.” “Parking.”

Several quick thoughts on these changes in many suburban communities:

  1. Where exactly this density will happen will be fascinating to watch. Will it happen in wealthier suburban communities or will they be able to keep it at bay? Inner-ring suburbs are often already more familiar with such density but this is less common in suburbs further from the big city.
  2. The housing pressure is acute in California but is not so clear or as well publicized in many other locations. If this works in California, where else does it show up?
  3. The NIMBY concerns cited above will be vocally shared again and again. The appeal for many single-family home owners is the space between neighbors, relatively lots of room for parking, and not feeling like the neighborhood is crowded.
  4. How much are #1-3 above linked to another long-term pattern in suburbia: race and exclusion? Homeowners will say it is about protecting their properties – particularly their property values, which single-family home zoning is intended to do – but it is also about who is able to live in the neighborhood and community.
  5. The addition of units and people to existing single-family home neighborhoods is a different approach to denser suburbia than creating larger-scale “surban” projects that some would find desirable near suburban downtowns or in large-scale redevelopment.

“Welcome to the Metroburb” in the NW Chicago suburbs

This week I heard a radio ad saying “Welcome to the Metroburb.” Here is more on this new development outside of Chicago:

Chicago area suburbs advertising their communities is not unusual; see examples here and here. Far less common are new suburban developments making broad appeals in mass media. This project has been in the works for a while now – see an earlier post – and it is on an intriguing site as Bell Labs was important for the Chicago region (read more about the effects on local development of their Naperville facility) and the country as a whole.

If you ran a business or were searching for a residence or wanted to be part of an interesting scene, would this ad or website persuade you? This is a unique development and a large one. Suburbs around the United States are looking to fill empty suburban headquarters, denser suburban areas are popular, and standing out in a crowded suburban landscape can be difficult.

Interestingly, there is also a partner project involving the former Bell Labs facility in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Taking extra time to make a decision in Itasca on controversial proposal

I have followed the proposal to convert a suburban hotel to a treatment center from an earlier iteration in Wheaton, a march against the proposal in Itasca, and the ongoing discussion. The process is still ongoing and the final vote was recently delayed:

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Itasca’s plan commission on Wednesday unanimously agreed to recommend the village board deny Haymarket’s proposal. The Chicago-based nonprofit group is seeking permission to convert a former hotel along Irving Park Road into a 240-bed facility for adult patients with drug and alcohol use disorders.

The final decision rests with the village board. But trustees don’t want to rush their decision.

On Thursday, Mayor Jeff Pruyn said the village board plans to have at least two special meetings beginning in the middle of October. The first would allow public comment about the proposal. Haymarket representatives would make their case before the village board during the second.

As a result, the village board will not vote on the proposal until late October or early November.

Making a hasty decision may be in no one’s best interest. Particularly given the controversy surrounding the proposal, making sure everyone has a chance to voice their opinion and the board has all the time to make up their mind seems reasonable.

At the same time, what would change between now and then that would have a big effect on how the board members are viewing the situation? The proposal has been under discussion from some time and community members have made their voices heard.

This is not an easy decision for a smaller community to make. There could be consequences for life in the community and future development. Either way, some people will be upset. The village board decision will either agree with the plan commission or go the other direction (and the board is able to choose either option).

Yet, a decision needs to be made. I will be interested to see what happens: how will Itasca respond? Will Haymarket look for another suburban location? More broadly, what suburban communities might welcome land uses like these that are needed in metropolitan regions?

Paint a mural over windows to obscure sizable suburban development going up next door

A restaurant in downtown Glen Ellyn found itself next to a large new building that obscured the view from some its windows. The solution? Paint a mural:

The Apex 400 development, a new apartment building, is rising next door to the Santa Fe Mexican Restaurant along Main Street. A parking garage that’s still under construction stands almost right up against the exterior wall of the popular dining spot, blocking its southern-facing windows.

Stuck staring out at concrete, the family owners of the restaurant — serving Glen Ellyn for nearly 40 years — sought to give their customers new views…

The mural project became a collaboration between Cudworth and the second-generation owners of Santa Fe, siblings Reyna and Olga Jiménez. Their parents, Irineo and Teresa Jimenez, opened the restaurant and raised six children…

He first expanded an existing hacienda mural in the back of the restaurant to 22 feet wide. In the front, he stretched canvas over the two boarded-up, framed windows and painted from photographs that he was given and researched of San Miguel, Mexico.

This is the fear some property owners have when a nearby property is redeveloped: the new structure will significantly alter access to sun, light, and/or loom over their existing property. Where once diners could look out the window, now sits a large wall. This may be the price to be paid for denser suburban downtowns where there is interest in denser, mixed-use properties near restaurants, cultural opportunities, and train lines to provide more “surban” spaces.

This solution of painting a mural is a clever one given the options. While this is not public art since it is inside a property, it has similar functions: to complement what the business provides, to enhance the aesthetics of the space, and involve other members of the community/area. It can be difficult to move on from the loss of natural light yet this art may obscure for future diners that windows were once here.

Chicago as “the nation’s capital of deconversions” from condos to apartments

Henry Grabar suggests Chicago is ground zero for efforts to convert condos to apartments:

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Stories like this make Chicago the perfect place to understand how condos usually meet their end—not in a pile of rubble, but in a buyout that leaves some owners feeling lucky and others feeling betrayed. Lauren Kerchill, the owner of a Gold Coast unit overlooking Lake Michigan, was a holdout when investors came to buy out her building. After fighting to toss her condo board, she told Crain’s Chicago Business she was called “petty,” “greedy,” and “uneducated.” She just didn’t think she could find another home like hers nearby. In the end, she didn’t have a choice. Her neighbors voted to sell her building, at 1400 Lake Shore Drive, for $107 million in 2019—another record, this time the most expensive deconversion in the country…

But there’s another side to the story, in which deconversion is the only way out for condo owners stuck in deteriorating properties. In June, the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, drew attention to the challenges that confront condo boards as they assess structural damage and raise money for repairs. Maintenance bills for the Great American Condo Boom of the ’70s and ’80s are starting to come due in areas like South Florida…

While states like Florida, California, and Hawaii saw tons of new condo construction in the decades after the concept was established in the 1960s, Chicago saw a different kind of boom: older buildings becoming condos. Fearing rent control, facing declining profits, or saddled with obsolete prewar commercial space, landlords in Chicago raced to sell off their units in the 1970s. Yuppies and middle-class workers gobbled up these starter apartments, which provided an easy and cheap entry point to homeownership.

Fifty years later, those buildings are among the oldest condominiums in the country. Owners who have not kept on top of maintenance, and even some who have, sometimes find themselves facing massive repair bills.

It would be interesting to read more about the specific aspects of Chicago’s history, real estate market, and local regulations that play into the the number of condo deconversions in Chicago.

More broadly, this gets at two larger housing issues:

  1. How do deconversions fit with a larger American promotion of homeownership? Condos offer opportunities to offer homeownership opportunities in settings where the single-family home is less possible. But, given market conditions right now, is there now increased interest in having more rental units?
  2. While aging and the associated expenses is an issue for condo buildings, it is also an issue for many more housing units in the United States. What happens to older homes and residences when there is limited interest in repairing them or redeveloping the property? In wealthier communities and desirable locations, there are often developers and individuals interested in rehabbing or rebuilding structures. Hence, teardowns or new residences in suburban downtowns. Elsewhere, replacing or changing housing is a more arduous task.

Ghost town, suburban O’Hare industrial property edition

Ghost towns in the American West are well-known. Recognized less frequently are suburban communities or neighborhoods that disappear. A neighborhood of over 100 homes in Bensenville will be demolished to expand industrial facilities near O’Hare Airport:

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The 106 houses where people had raised families since 1956 will be gone.

Rising in their place will be 1.2 million square feet of top-of-the-line industrial space in four buildings…

By knocking down the houses, the new owners will have a 68-acre site in a very hot O’Hare International Airport industrial real-estate submarket…

When the project was proposed, “I thought about what happened to Bensenville with the O’Hare project,” DeSimone said. He means the loss of about 600 homes and businesses near York and Irving Park roads in 2009 when Chicago bought the properties to expand the airport.

The area surrounding O’Hare Airport is desirable because of the amount of passenger and freight traffic that goes through the airport each year. Because of its particular location, the airport is near all sorts of land uses, including residences. This has caused noise problems over the years and this agreement seems to be a mixed bag: the residents got a lot of money for their money and they were not forced into the change but an established neighborhood of 65 years will be gone and the suburb of Bensenville continues to lose residents.

How will the neighborhood be remembered? Will it be commemorated in any physical way beyond the memories of the residents who used to live there? This is the opposite of what many assume will happen with suburbs and American communities. The expectation is for continual growth while population stagnation or loss is seen as undesirable. To have a neighborhood with its homes, families, and activity disappear is not a thought many would want to dwell on.

Neighborhood change via highway construction and the resulting change in local character

Neighborhood or community change happens over time. Yet, as this look back at a Black Dallas neighborhood that was drastically altered by the construction of a highway in the late 1960s suggests, it was not just that the physical aspects of the neighborhood that changes: the intangible yet experienced character of a community matters.

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That is why these three forgotten old News stories about Deep Ellum are so important. Almost unintentionally, they document what was really lost when I-345 was built. Sure, the neighborhood lost shops, hotels, and historic buildings. But the most significant loss was something more intangible. Call it memory, or character, or spirit. Call it a continuity of shared experience, or sense of identity shaped by the ebbs and flows of prosperity and decline.

Whatever you call it, that intangible quality is the real ingredient that makes cities and neighborhoods great. You can’t plan it or build it. You can’t fund it through philanthropy or market it in a tourism brochure. It isn’t “walkability” or “urbanism.” It takes generations to take shape. If you’re lucky, you capture it by carefully preserving all the beautifully ugly conditions that feed it life.

But if you lose it, it’s gone forever.

This helps explain the anger and protests in the last sixty years or so about highways bulldozing their way through urban neighborhoods. The particular form of highways – wide, noisy, made to help people speed through the community rather than visit or stop – and consequences – often bisecting lively places, erecting a barrier, destroying important structures, and furthering connections for wealthier and suburban residents at the expense of others – could be very detrimental.

More broadly, this hints at the delicate nature of neighborhood or community character. Change will happen but it matters how quickly the change happens, what form it takes, and who drives the process. Highways do not do well in these three metrics: they tend to go from bulldozing to construction to use within a few years, it is difficult to rebuild street life around it, and it is pushed on a community by others. Could highways support neighborhood character in any form? Perhaps not. But, it is a question asked not just of highways: the issue of character comes up with structures and development of a different form including denser housing among single-family homes, a major height differential such as a 20 story tall building in a community with a current max of five story buildings, or a new kind of land use. It could be easy to write off the concerns of local residents and leaders as NIMBY concerns but they may have a point in that new construction could change the character.

And, as noted above, the character of a place is vitally important. The people who live and work there have a particular understanding of what it is. When it is threatened by something as characterless as a highway, this can be particularly painful.

Trying to add round-the-clock, year-round activity at a suburban football stadium

If the Chicago Bears are to move to the suburbs, the change would not just include a stadium: the land all around would be valuable and needed to generate the kind of revenues the team and community would hope for:

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SoFi Stadium was built on the former site of Hollywood Park racetrack, presenting a solid comparison to Arlington Park. According to Noll, the reason SoFi Stadium is in position to be financially successful is the mixed-use development also being built on the property.

Noll believes a stand-alone stadium is no longer a realistic option for NFL franchises because a $5 billion stadium can’t be financed by eight football games a year and the random big-name concert. Year-round revenue must be part of the package…

Glendale city officials, for example, added residential neighborhoods to the area so the entertainment establishments would be frequented at night and on weekends when no game is in town. They added office space so workers would patronize the restaurants in the daytime and not take up parking at night.

“If you’re not able to capture benefit in a meaningful way outside of the football games, it’ll be an expensive proposition,” Phelps said. “We’re seeing tremendous growth in and around the stadium, kind of creating this sports and entertainment hub. I think that’s the future where these kinds of venues are going.”

Creating this sort of suburban entertainment center is a dream of many larger suburbs. Not only would this boost the status of the community, it would add jobs and tax revenues. Metropolitan areas only have so many stadiums and major revenue generators and this could be viewed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (or gamble).

But, this would also be a major change. The article noted that this site in Arlington Heights is surrounded by residences; would a mixed-use area of denser housing, restaurants, and entertainment venues be welcomed? Can Arlington Heights go full[speed into such a project?

As the article notes, it could turn out poorly. There is a lot of money at play. Getting any taxpayer dollars involved could be a risk. It all could take time to develop fully into a true center for suburban football as opposed to a football stadium stuck in the middle of single-family homes near highways.

Given all the history of the Bears in the city, I would be more than 50% confident that they stay in Chicago. The allure of a new, large stadium that could serve other uses much of the years is incredibly appealing. There is money to be made in the suburbs. But, it would certainly be a change for all involved, including Chicago leaders who would have much to answer for if the Bears become the Chicagoland Bears.