DeKALB – Ah, the sweet smell of lumber and the dulcet tones of dump trucks unloading gravel for a new home’s foundation.
It’s been years since DeKalb has experienced what’s unfolding in
the Devonaire Farms subdivision, where the Texas-based firm D.R. Horton, which has an office in Vernon Hills, is building 20 single-family homes.
For city officials, the sights, sounds and smells are sublime.
“This is a good sign that DeKalb
is offering something,” the
city’s chief building inspector, Thaddeus Mack, said this week while walking around the subdivision, where homes are in various stages of construction. “I think there is a lot of demand, which is good to see. It’s an indicator things are coming back. This certainly brings a lot of excitement.”
The housing starts in DeKalb are the big development for homebuilding in the county, while communities such as Sycamore and Genoa have continued to see homebuilding in line with current – and gradual – trends.
Mack said he can’t point to what exactly is driving the renewed demand in DeKalb.
“If I knew what it was, I’d promote it bigger and better,” he said. “I like the fact that it’s happening, though.”
His department did the final inspection this week on the first completed house, which D.R. Horton will use as a sales office. Mack said when the other 19 homes sell, Horton will sell the building housing its office, as well.
Mack said the firm has not given any indication as to when houses could hit the market, or how they’ll be priced.
The number on the large signs along Malta Road, 847-984-4480, is not yet in service, and messages left at the developer’s Vernon Hills office were not be returned.
So far this year, 23 single-family residential permits have been issued in DeKalb – compared with 16 in the past seven years combined.
The last time the city issued double-digit permits was when 28 were approved in 2008 – the year of the housing market crash. In 2006,
157 permits were issued, followed by 51 permits in 2007 and 28 permits in 2008.
Ten years later, it seems local developer John Pappas is convinced the tide is turning. He and Park Ridge businessman Peter Iatredes walked away as dozens of undeveloped lots in foreclosure they owned in the Bridges of Rivermist subdivision went to auction in December 2014.
“There’s zero growth in DeKalb,” Pappas said at the time, “and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Pappas said he sold the 20 lots in Devonaire Farms to D.R. Horton at cost – about $13,000 a lot.
“This is only the beginning for the growth,” said Pappas, who’s lived in DeKalb 47 years. “There are a lot more things to come.”
Quite the 180-degree turn. So, what gives?
“I’m a very positive person in general, and I think [Northern Illinois University] is going to turn around soon,” he said. “We’ve got great new management, and this is a great college town. This is a great time to invest in DeKalb.”
A decision made in July 2017 by the DeKalb City Council to eliminate impact fees for new building permits in several of the city’s subdivisions helped, as well.
Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton said getting all three entities – the city, DeKalb School District 428 and the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District – to commit to waiving the fees was a long time in the making.
“It was a long process, and it took a lot of conversation,” Charlton said.
The standard impact fees for the city ranged from about $2,600 to about $3,800, while the impact fee paid to District 428 for a four-bedroom single-family home was just shy of $2,000.
Charlton conceded that those entities had little to lose, considering how little has been collected in the past decade.
“Really since 2008, I can probably count on one hand how many impact fees were paid,” she said.
Pappas said you can’t miss out on money you’re not collecting.
He, of course, is the developer of the two four-story properties downtown – Cornerstone at the corner of First Street and Lincoln Highway, where tenants currently are moving into the high-end apartments above commercial space, and Plaza DeKalb, which still is being built across the street and down the road.
“We need the community development to get a jump-start,” Pappas said. “The whole idea behind it is to jump-start the housing market in town, energize the tax base and bring people into the community, and to downtown.”
Although Mack said the growth spurt aligns with a regional trend, it’s not reflected elsewhere in DeKalb County just yet.
This year has been, more or less, business as usual in Sycamore, where 34 permits have been issued, bearing out to a pace of about 52 for the year – in line with the average of 48 each of the past three years.
By comparison, during DeKalb’s most recent year of building activity 2006, 159 permits were issued in Sycamore – just two more than in Barb City.
So far this year in Genoa, three permits have been issued, after six were issued last year and five both of the previous two years. Two permits have been applied for in Kingston.
It’s been 10 years since a new single-family home was built in Kirkland.
After a long drought in Malta, one permit was issued in both 2017 and 2016 – the first homebuilding activity there in almost a decade. Village Comptroller Debbie Lang said she’s hopeful that the development in Devonaire Farms – less than three miles from the Malta village limits – carries over.
“We’re hoping they trickle this way,” Lang said. “We still have a lot of lots available.”