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Work in progress: Elburn officials address Blackberry Creek

ELBURN – A drive through the Blackberry Creek subdivision in Elburn provides a clear picture of just what happened in the building industry over the past decade. There are sections of large houses and Blackberry Creek Elementary School. But head to the far eastern section and it is a different story.

Some roads lack a top layer. There are areas of empty lots, many of them with “for sale” signs. There are ponds, but some you can’t see because weeds block the view. In urging caution to the village’s leaders as they move forward on plans for the proposed Elburn Station development, board member Bill Grabarek called Blackberry Creek “a failed development.”

Village President Dave Anderson is among those who don’t agree with that assessment.

“It’s not a failed development, not by any stretch of the imagination,” Anderson said. “There are some financial issues and some things the developer was required to finish up on, and we’re dealing with the bonding companies right now on that.”

Four members of the Village Board are Blackberry Creek residents. Some residents say it’s an enjoyable place to live and there is promise. At Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, village leaders pushed forward with a resolution they say should allow them to address the maintenance problem.

Some in the village question how local leaders can push forward with Elburn Station plans while portions of Blackberry Creek sit undeveloped. Village leaders say there is little they can do about that, and the developments are different.

Improving maintenance

Village leaders Monday discussed Blackberry Creek issues, and village attorney Bob Britz said they have two options when they look to address the problems with maintaining the land – take their issues to court with the landowners or adopt a resolution to accept the dedication of open space, detention/retention basins and public improvements. Issues have been unresolved since developer B&B Enterprises pulled out of the area in 2010.

Britz said the intent was that the properties ultimately would have been dedicated to the village, and the resolution would allow officials to handle the upkeep, thus addressing a long-standing issue in the subdivision. The cost is to be covered through subdivision bonds that were part of the annexation agreement.

The item was placed on next week’s consent agenda for the Village Board.

Grabarek said the resolution was necessary because performing such work would have been considered trespassing otherwise.

“We were just kind of stuck,” he said.

Empty lots

Blackberry Creek resident Chris Rosati said he likes the subdivision, where he has lived for six years, and he enjoys living in Elburn. He can live with the fact that the streets are incomplete because that was to be done after construction was complete.

But he hasn’t enjoyed mowing the lots next to his. And when he moved into the area, he didn’t envision so many empty lots years later.

“When we bought, we anticipated we would be buying into a subdivision that is complete,” said Rosati, adding he is disappointed that it’s so sparse.

Documents provided by the village show 665 building permits have been issued in Blackberry Creek since 2003, but only seven since 2009. Grabarek said 665 is about 55 percent of what the development originally called for.

Rosati is not against Elburn Station, the proposed ShoDeen development that promises to bring about 2,200 homes into the village in the area near the Metra station. Clearing the way for Elburn Station would move forward plans for the Anderson Road bridge, which would provide a crossing of the railroad tracks. Trains each day pass through the village, snarling traffic on Route 47. Trustee Jerry Schmidt, another Blackberry Creek resident, said residents on the south side of Elburn at times can get to Batavia faster than they can reach the north side of Elburn.

Because ShoDeen owns the land on which the bridge would be built, those plans – which include millions of dollars in federal funding – are linked with Elburn Station’s future.

Another resident, Stefan Havier, called the subdivision a “very nice community.” He said the houses will be built in the empty lots when people can afford to build.

“It’s just part of a bad economy,” he said. “If the economy wouldn’t have plunged, I would have neighbors next to me. … Does it bother me? No. I enjoy my house, and I enjoy the people who are there.”

What can be done

Some in the village have been vocal against Elburn Station, citing Blackberry Creek’s issues.

“The comments I hear from the residents are, basically, why are we considering another development when Blackberry Creek isn’t finished, and why doesn’t ShoDeen finish it?” Grabarek said. “Well, ShoDeen doesn’t own it. … I can understand the frustrations.”

As far as calling Blackberry Creek a failed development, Grabarek said he was “perhaps choosing my words for the greatest impact.”

“It was not inappropriately planned or executed, but other influences … basically, the economy, brought on by a lot of iffy mortgages just kind of caused the collapse. … We, as a nation, just kind of put our proverbial fiscal foot in our mouth,” Grabarek said.

Trustee Ken Anderson, who resides in Blackberry Creek, said he would not call it a failed development. He also doesn’t see how it would be beneficial to stop all construction in the village because activity in his subdivision stopped. Elburn Station is different, he said, with housing near the train station that might be more attractive to people with different priorities than those who live in Blackberry Creek.

“Blackberry Creek is a planned unit development that has amenities that drew me to the development. … It will draw more people to the development when the economy gets better,” Anderson said. “The proposed development [Elburn Station] will have its own amenities, and certain people will be drawn to that.”

As far as the argument that Blackberry Creek’s mistakes shouldn’t be repeated at Elburn Station, board members plan to address that. Trustee Jeff Walter, who lives in Blackberry Creek, has pushed for language in the annexation agreement with ShoDeen that would specify that no plat could be started until the previous plat was essentially done. In Blackberry Creek, he said one plat is about 60 to 70 percent complete, and another is about 10 to 15 percent.

“That’s where the discussion comes up, that we don’t want another Blackberry Creek,” Walter said.

But there is much in Blackberry Creek to embrace.

“Yeah, there are some things that need to be done, but I wouldn’t say it’s a failed development,” Walter said. “People don’t complain about living here. Some of the people might have some complaints about the road, but it’s a great neighborhood.”

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