A dormant example of the economic downturn is being reworked into a "throwback" neighborhood that its developer says could bring national recognition to Libertyville.
Anchored by the former Central School, which will be converted to loft-style condos, and a menu of homes with big porches meant to evoke another era, the concept of New Urbanism is about to take root.
"This is what it's all about, hanging out on your front porch looking down the street to see what's happening," John McLinden, a Libertyville resident and longtime developer said in a recent update to the village board.
McLinden, who says he has done 1.5 million square feet of loft development in and around Chicago in his career, described the School Street project as having built-in character because it is within walking distance of downtown and other activities.
"We've thrilled to bring a front porch revival to Libertyville," McLinden said. "The big advantage Libertyville has is it's truly authentic."
He said the project would be centered on the New Urbanism, a concept pioneered in the Florida in the early 1980s that emphasizes the feel of walkable, pre-suburban city neighborhoods.
McLinden said the project also aligns with a cultural shift of connecting to community and living a greener way of life.
The Congress for the New Urbanism is interested in helping spread the word, according to McLinden, which could attract a national audience.
Talks also are ongoing with Harvard University for a possible design critique or case study of the project. Developers are looking to hire Sarah Susanka author of "The Not So Big House" either as a consultant or to design one of the homes.
"It's truly a design driven development," said John Spoden, the village's director of community development. "It is very unique and its location also makes it unique."
Over the years, the village bought homes on School Street as they became available, to clear the area for a cohesive development.
Proposals were sought in 2004 and the Hummel Group Ltd., in 2006 received the go-ahead to build a community of row houses in the $850,000 range.
Five were built but construction stopped in August 2008 and the property went into foreclosure.
McLinden and his group bought the property from Libertyville Bank and Trust at a price that will allow them to offer homes starting in the $500,000 range.
Working with partners as StreetScape Development LLC, McLinden introduced the plan in March and it has been under review since.
The major changes call for single-family homes rather than townhouses and 15 rather than 12 lofts in the 1930s-era school building.
Developers also want to reduce the number of "attainable" priced lofts from eight to six. Those would be rented for the first few years and eventually sold as condos at a capped price of about $230,000.
McLinden said federal financing hinges on the units being rentals to start.
"One of the only groups out there funding right now is the federal government," he said.
The village board accepted the report of the plan commission and directed the staff to prepare the necessary ordinances to proceed.
"I think it looks beautiful," said Trustee Rich Moras. "I appreciate you putting in the effort to come up with something unique for our town."
Groundbreaking on the first of 26 single family homes is expected in late summer but McLinden said there already are nine commitments to buy.
"Each of these homes will have its own character. None of them will be alike," McLinden said.
Work on the school conversion likely won't begin for about a year but the village will require it be complete before the rest of the homes can be occupied.